Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Learning from soft power

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4645

Rapid Response:

It is not necessary to rebrand public health as “soft healing”


Mozaffarian & colleagues propose an interesting concept of “soft healing”, as opposed to “hard healing, which is what goes on in primary care (GP practices) & secondary care (NHS hospitals)[1].
Whilst the authors refer to the limits of “hard power”, they do not mention the shortcomings of “soft power”. In the interests of balance, we think it is important to acknowledge that soft power, whilst admirable and indeed beneficial, does have limitations.

In principle, it is hard to disagree with the concept of soft-healing. However, when one reads the extensive list of examples of soft healing, one struggles to differentiate it from what most British readers would call “public health”. The uncontroversial list of health promotion measures like tobacco & alcohol control, good nutrition, physical exercise & seat belts. These are all fundamentals of public health medicine in our opinion. Many of these measures are already entrenched in UK public health policy, sometimes backed by legislation.

Thus, we agree with the so-called “soft healing” measures, individually & collectively, but we disagree that these common sense public health interventions need to be rebranded.

The only advantage rebranding would have is to create eye-catching headlines. A disadvantage of rebranding is that it would be a distraction from the nitty gritty of developing & implementing the kind of sensible public health measures the authors have cited. In this era of limited and sometimes declining resources, that is a distraction we can ill afford.

[1] Learning from soft power. Mozaffarian D, Blashek J A, Stavridis J. BMJ 2015;351:h4645

Competing interests: We work for Public Health England but we write in private capacities. The views expressed are our own and not those of our employer(s).

07 September 2015
Gee Yen Shin
Consultant Virologist
Rohini J Manuel
Public Health England
Public Health Laboratory London, 3/F Pathology & Pharmacy Building, The Royal London Hospital, London E1 2ES