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Feature BMJ Group Improving Health Awards 2012: Healthcare Communication Campaign

Health campaigns that have changed public understanding

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 25 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2866
  1. Anna Sayburn, senior editor
  1. 1Best Health, BMJ Evidence Centre, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. asayburn{at}

Anna Sayburn speaks to the people behind the campaigns shortlisted for the BMJ Group award for healthcare communication

The award for a healthcare communication campaign was intended to recognise the potential benefits of large scale communication to educate and improve health at population levels. The judges wanted to see campaigns founded on solid evidence that were balanced and accurate, and that had the potential to change the way people think about an important issue. Raising awareness of an illness or condition was not enough—the campaign should improve public understanding of health.

The shortlisted candidates met all of these criteria, and showed imaginative and effective methods of communication, suitable for the intended audience.

Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

How do you reach a rural population that tends not to use social media and is prone to social isolation? Richard Laugharne [Q to A what is his role/job title ]and colleagues in his mental health trust took to the airwaves with Radio Cornwall, a BBC radio station with 180 000 regular listeners, to get their message across.

The team of 22 clinicians took part in a series of 12 radio phone-in programmes, looking in-depth at specific mental health problems and taking calls from listeners. Their aim was to destigmatise mental health and give hope to people living with mental health problems.

“What was most powerful was the people who rang in and described their own experiences,” said Laugharne. “The destigmatising aspect is hearing people—articulate people—ringing up and saying ‘I have been through this.’”

Laugharne recommends the experience. “It’s fairly straightforward and it’s fun. People get worried about being on the radio, but communicating is what we do in clinic—trying to explain the illness, how things work, and the treatments available, and trying to give people hope.”

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Situated in the heart of London’s Soho, the 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic is perfectly placed to serve the capital’s population of gay men. A good relationship with the local bars was crucial to the success of their campaign to encourage more gay men to be tested for HIV. A quarter of men infected with HIV are estimated to remain undiagnosed.

The clinic had run outreach HIV testing in Soho’s bars before but wanted to create a bigger stir to celebrate World Aids Day—more than “people wearing red ribbons,” explains Alan McOwan, service director of sexual health. The answer came from a local club promoter—a campaign to set a world record for HIV testing in one location within 8 hours.

McOwan says: “It was quite a controversial thing and we were aware that people were talking about it—that was kind of the point.”

On the day, people queued up to be tested. Staff ensured they were counselled and given privacy when receiving their results. Of the 467 who were tested, four men were identified as HIV positive and were given support and care at the Dean Street clinic.

The campaign received high profile media coverage, and the team is already planning the next campaign.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Evidence changes but attitudes take longer to change. That was the situation that faced Macmillan Cancer Support when it realised most patients were still being advised to rest, rather than keep active, during and after treatment.

The benefits of physical activity were becoming clear, but the message wasn’t getting through to healthcare professionals or patients. Elaine McNish, physical activity coordinator with Macmillan, explains the approach.

“Firstly we produced evidence reviews for healthcare professionals. Then we produced the Move More packs, which were really well received.” The packs, for patients and carers, outlined the benefits of gentle activity and suggested ways to introduce activity into their lives. One particularly popular inclusion was packs of seeds, to encourage people to get out into the garden.

“People loved the seeds. It was something to look forward to—to see the flowers bloom and the vegetables growing,” says McNish. The campaign received worldwide press attention. Macmillan plans to carry out more research on the resources that cancer patients would find most helpful to keep active.

Whittall Street Clinic

This Birmingham sexual health clinic designed a new website, allowing people to book consultations online and offering videos and myth busting information. But what was the best way to get the word out to the people they wanted to know about it?

Consultant physician Kaveh Manavi said that the evidence showed they should be promoting their HIV testing services to men who have sex with men, and people from sub-Saharan African countries. They harnessed the power of social media to take the message straight to those people.

“We arranged advert links on Facebook pages of all men who identified themselves as gay or of African origin on their Facebook accounts in West Midlands. The links connect to Whittall Street Clinic’s website,” he said. The clinic saw a 20% increase in visitors to the website as a result of the campaign.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:e2866


  • The Healthcare Communication Campaign award is sponsored by Boots. For more about the BMJ Group awards go to

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