Archive for September, 2021

Reporting the pandemic and beyond – dispatches from MHP Mischief’s Health Media Roundtable

Posted on: September 23rd, 2021 by Tomas White

Never has the role of the health journalist been so important in deciphering, interpreting, conveying, and interrogating the news. The past 18 months has seen a raft of seismic events in health news: a global pandemic; a health service in crisis; the development and rollout of a vaccine; sweeping reforms to health policy…and health journalists have been integral in explaining what it all means to the average person on the street.

It was in this context that the MHP Mischief Health team was thrilled to convene a panel of the country’s leading journalists, spanning print, online and broadcast.  Hugh Pym (BBC News), Ashish Joshi (Sky News), Kat Lay (The Times) and Stephen Adams (Mail on Sunday) provided open and insightful commentary of their experiences of pandemic reporting and their broader predictions for future health media trends, in a conversation chaired by MHP Mischief Health Associate Director and former press officer at the Department of Health and Social Care, Jaber Mohamed.

Catch up on highlights from the discussion below:

Striking the balance – reporting during a pandemic

The panel candidly admitted that the enormity of COVID-19 could not have been predicted when murmurings of a novel coronavirus in the Far East were first being mentioned in early 2020.  Indeed, in the initial days when the crisis reached the UK, the panellists said that the general sense of ‘chaos’ was exacerbated by difficulties around access to sites and officials and the sourcing of robust data.

A persistent challenge media faced in telling the story(ies) of the pandemic was how to strike the right balance of reporting fact, holding truth to power, and interpreting vast quantities of data, all whilst recognising the human grief that was sitting at the heart.  Not to mention the very real personal health risk they ran in seeking the story, for themselves and the people they lived with.  This balancing act continues, with panellists explaining the need to constantly find fresh angles and satiate the public’s appetite to be informed about the pandemic as it lurches from phase to phase.

Doing more with science, data and research

A positive that emerged from pandemic reporting for our panellists has been how data – always essential in the craft of a health reporter, but often a difficult ‘sell’ to an editor – is now in demand and integral to the telling of any story.  This transformation mirrors Government communications during the pandemic, with the appearance of graphs, dashboards and infographics becoming commonplace on television screens and newsprint on a daily, if not hourly basis, presented by scientists previously unknown to the public but are now trusted household names.  People now ‘get’ and want to be told about science and the researchers and innovators who are behind it.  The previous assumption that audiences would somehow be ‘turned off’ by intimidating stats and dry research has proven not to always be the case.  In a piece of advice to the gathered communications professionals in the audience, if the story can be pitched blending the right use of data plus what it means on a human level, it’ll have a higher chance of success.

Pharma’s halo – is it beginning to fade?

It was recognised that the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation received a huge boost in how it handled the pandemic, from its repurposing of existing medicines to treat COVID-19 symptoms, to its role in bringing a suite of vaccines to the public, and many elements of support and innovation in between.  Underpinning these efforts was the industry’s outstanding collaborative work with partners like Government, NHS, small biotechs and universities.  The panel noted, however, a risk that this ‘halo effect’ could be beginning to fade, as perceptions grow that commercial imperatives might be taking over, in addition to a lack of transparency around dealings with governments and medicines regulators across the world.  MHP Health’s Maddy Farnworth recently blogged about this subject in more detail.

What’s on the news agenda?

Our panel agreed that, despite occasional moments when the pandemic news cycle seems to abate, the story will continue to dominate their agenda for the foreseeable future.  The persistent threat of COVID-19, what health system recovery looks like, health inequalities and the mental health consequences of lockdown are all story permutations which look likely to come to the fore.

COVID-19, and its subsequent impact on other conditions, such as drops in diagnosis rates for cancer,may dominate, but other health stories need to be told, not least the major organisational changes that the NHS will undergo as part of the Government’s NHS Health and Social Care Bill.  The panel was honest in explaining that their willingness to cover something ‘other’ than the pandemic will go in peaks and troughs.  A piece of practical advice was to try and get a sense of the mood of the newsroom – either through assessing the wider context of the news cycle or picking up the phone to media contacts – to see whether a story was likely to land amidst the swirl of pandemic stories, or whether it could provide ‘relief’ from COVID-19 news.  Despite the turbulence caused by the pandemic, the panel stressed that a good story – whether COVID-19 related or otherwise – which had the core elements of novelty, a sense of scale, robust evidence and a human element would always be of interest.

For our panel and their peers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an all-consuming challenge like no other.  The interest and scrutiny in health stories and the demands placed on how they are told has increased exponentially, and with no end in sight, it has never been a more interesting time to be part of it.

Cabinet Reshuffle: Clearing The Decks

Posted on: September 15th, 2021 by Tomas White

The reshuffle that began this afternoon has been the subject of much rumour and spin. Originally briefed out as a means to keep Conservative MPs in order as the Government dropped their manifesto commitment not to raise taxes, the main Cabinet changes are now complete.

In reality, the Prime Minister was running out of options. With the Spending Round completed only three days ago and the Party conference looming on the horizon, now is the only time Boris Johnson can realistically get a new team settled-in before the autumn CSR and Budget.

There are plenty of capable would-be junior Ministers in the wings, keen to get on with their career progression, and a feeling of capability lethargy hanging over some of the Great Offices of State.

Johnson is effectively choosing who he can afford to have actively grumbling on the back benches, and those he can’t afford not to have around his Cabinet table.

Matthew Elliott sets out below some of the implications of the new Government line-up and what it says about Johnson 2.0.


Matthew Elliott

Senior Adviser to MHP Mischief
and former CEO of Vote Leave






The departures from Government are more extensive than originally anticipated. On the scale of tinkering to clearing the decks, this reshuffle is certainly at the latter end of the reshuffle spectrum. Gavin Williamson sacked from Education, Robert Buckland dismissed from Justice, Rob Jenrick removed from MHCLG, Amanda Milling losing the Party chairmanship – those four big changes came soon after PMQs.

Dominic Raab’s move from the Foreign Office to Justice was less clear cut – it was sweetened with the title of Deputy Prime Minister. He has a strong relationship with the PM, so this might turn out to be a sideways move, rather than the demotion it is currently being presented as by the media.

With Liz Truss promoted to become the new Foreign Secretary, and both Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel keeping their jobs, two of the Great Offices of State are now held by women, and two by members of the BAME community. This is something that the Government should be rightly proud of. For Liz Truss, this is a well-earned promotion following her success at the Department for International Trade and recognition of her popularity with the Party grassroots.

Michael Gove has been confirmed as the new housing secretary. The media had been tipping a big promotion to either the Home Office or Foreign Office, but with his additional responsibilities for levelling-up and relations with the UK’s devolved administrations, this is a beefier MHCLG, befitting to his Cabinet Office experience of cross-government coordination.

Oliver Dowden’s promotion from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the chairmanship of the Conservative Party might strike some as odd, with him being such an able Minister, but he has grown up through the Conservative Party and knows the party machine well. He has also been at the forefront of the ‘culture wars’, which are important to grassroots Conservatives. As a safe pair of hands in the media, this will be a high-profile position ahead of the next General Election.

Another feature of the reshuffle is rewarding those who have demonstrated their competence and deserve battle honours for the fight against Covid. The promotion of Nadine Dorries to become Culture Secretary is a recognition of the first class work she has done at the Department for Health, and a reward for her position as one of the PM’s most longstanding, doughty defenders in the Parliamentary party. And Nadhim Zahawi’s appointment as Education Secretary is recognition of his outstanding work both at BEIS and then as Vaccines Minister.

These changes undoubtedly give the Government a lift and a refresh ahead of the Party conference and the coming year.

It also feels like a line is being drawn under Brexit and Covid. We’re beginning a new phase of Boris Johnson’s time in office. If Johnson 1.0 was all about Getting Brexit Done, defeating Jeremy Corbyn and saving Britain from Covid, Johnson 2.0 will be about levelling-up, achieving net zero and – crucially – commencing the build-up to the next General Election.

Back to school in the City: Lessons for a CEO from M&A to COP26

Posted on: September 13th, 2021 by Tomas White

Corporate activity will be driven up even further by private equity dry powder and a perceived underappreciation of UK equities post-Brexit. In the last month there has been big ticket M&A involving companies such as Morrisons and Meggitt. In the year to date, almost 1,500 British companies, worth a combined £183bn, have had bids for acquisition, according to Dealogic. CEOs will need to be on the front foot, prepared to protect shareholders interests with a robust defence in the event of an unsolicited approach for their own business. They must be equally ready to pursue their own acquisition targets before they are in play or hoovered up by competitors.

In this latest stage of the pandemic, chief executives need to have a greater dialogue with a wider set of stakeholders. CEO’s communications during Covid to date have necessarily focused on investors, for their financial suppport, policymakers, for Government backing, and employees, to reassure them. Businesses’ are increasingly being held to account by a wider audience, and activist investors are demanding more from company boards. Taxpayers have forked out £66bn for the furlough scheme to support businesses – so people are rightly asking, how are businesses supporting them?

The obvious area of focus will be green credentials. The last summer has been awash with shocking news from around the world and as almost everyone knows by now, the UK is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. Companies will need to tell a compelling ESG story that resonates with the people on the street as much as an institutional investor. CEOs who fall into the trap of greenwashing for short-term gain will pay the price further down the line.

There will also be a fresh class of public company CEOs. Following what has been the best start to the year for IPOs on the London Stock Exchange since 2014, another wave of private companies have been busily preparing to go public in the second half of the year. Prospective investors are ready and waiting to invest, but no one should underestimate just how discerning they will be given the number of investment options. The competition for capital is expected to be intense, and the importance of a differentiated and well-articulated investment proposition will be more important than ever as companies jostle for institutional support.

Perhaps more important than the competition for capital, will be the competition for talent. For many businesses, this month heralds the first trime in over 18 months that the office returns as a hub of activity for the workforce. CEOs will need to listen to their people and adapt as working practices evolve to make sure that stay relevant and agile whilst attracting and retaining key employees. Big firms in the ultra-competitive talent pool of Silicon Valley are already learning how contentious policies can become if not communicated well, with “no jab no job”, delayed office reopenings and reduced pay for remote staff causing violent debate across staff.

One of the final unanswered questions is sartorial style. Before the pandemic hit, Goldman Sachs caused furore in some traditionalist circles by announcing that it was relaxing its dress code. In the subsequent year and a half, many of those naysayers have shed the suit trousers for shorts and jogging bottoms as they meet on Zoom and Teams calls. So will the Square Mile again be populated by pinstripes and Hermes ties?

This article was originally published on City AM.

Political Insider: Social Care Reforms

Posted on: September 8th, 2021 by Tomas White

“We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.”

So said Boris Johnson on the steps of Downing St in July 2019 immediately following his appointment as Prime Minister.

Two years and one pandemic later, we now finally have sight of that plan and, critically, how it is going to be paid for.

We also see laid bare in front of us the massive impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on the NHS capacity, or lack thereof, to treat millions of people across the country currently awaiting much needed treatment.

We look at what exactly the Prime Minister’s announced yesterday afternoon on reform to the social care sector and to tackle the NHS backlog in England.

Alongside looking at the specific proposals set out, we also hear from Engine MHP Senior Adviser and former Health Minister Paul Burstow who analyses what this means for both the health and social care systems and how Westminster has reacted to the announcement.

What did the Prime Minister announce?

Key announcements:

Social Care

  • People will no longer pay any more than £86,000 in care costs over their lifetime, from October 2023
  • Those with less than £20,000 in assets will have their care fully paid for
  • There will be help for people owning between £20,000 and £100,000 in assets
  • The amount of help given will be based on a means test, with the details of how this will work to be announced at a later date

NHS catch up

  • With 5.5 million people in England currently waiting for treatment on the NHS, the Government will spend £2 billion this year, double its previous commitment, to start to tackle the backlog
  • In addition, the Government plans to spend more than £8 billion in the following three years from 2022-23 to 2024-25
  • The funding being put in now could deliver the equivalent of around nine million more checks, scans and procedures
  • It will also mean the NHS in England can aim to deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 than it was before the pandemic
  • Once the NHS has recovered from the pandemic, activity should be the equivalent of 10% higher than under the NHS Long Term Plan
  • The Government will also establish a new £250 million Elective Recovery Technology Fund to enable cutting edge technologies and provide £250 million in funding to increase operating theatre capacity and improve productivity in hospitals, which together will increase elective capacity

Tax rises

  • National Insurance (NI) will rise by 1.25% from next April
  • From April 2023, this extra payment will become a separate tax – called the Health and Social Care Levy – on earned income. It will show up separately on payslips
  • The levy – unlike NI – will also be paid by people who continue to work beyond retirement age
  • The government says the changes will cost £255 a year for someone earning £30,000, and £505 a year for someone on £50,000
  • Shareholders will also have to pay 1.25% more in tax on the profits they make
  • The changes are expected to raise £12bn a year
  • The government says that, for three years, all the money will go towards easing the NHS backlog, before more of it is moved into social care

Political Analysis

Paul Burstow


MHP Mischief Senior Adviser and former Social Care Minister

The social care ‘plans’ outlined by the PM today kick the can down the road once again. Extra funding will be directed towards the NHS while social care is left in a precarious state. The decision to introduce in 2023 a cap on care costs along with a more generous capital floor were both recommended in the Dilnot Report in 2011. Welcome though they are they do not add up to the comprehensive reform that is needed. The legislation is already in place so why the delay?

In recent years demand for social care has risen dramatically whilst access is increasingly rationed. This is not just about an ageing population, over half of local council social care spending goes on supporting working age people, especially those with learning disabilities.

The PM said that you can’t fix the NHS without fixing social care. True. But today’s announcement fails that test, it does not fix social care. The majority of the monies raised will go to the NHS and yet underinvesting in social care, especially the types of help that keep people independent and in the community simply stores up costs for the NHS.

Pooling the risk of catastrophic care costs – the cap – does not inject a single extra penny into the day to day budgets of social care services. The PM has promised an extra £5.4 billion over the next three year for social care, but this falls far short of all the independent assessments of the funding gap.

There is an urgent need for a long term plan for social care which increases access and improves the quality and peoples experience of care. That means addressing the sector’s chronic workforce pressures which have seen staff turnover rates over 30%.

Social care yet again finds itself the bridesmaid but never the bride. A promise of reform in three years time. But a failure to grasp the once in a generation opportunity to deliver real change in the quality of life of millions of our fellow citizens who don’t have a house to sell to pay for their care.

MHP Mischief hires Telegraph industry editor

Posted on: September 7th, 2021 by Tomas White

Alan Tovey will join MHP Mischief as a director on 15 November after 14 years as a business journalist.

His arrival at the agency follows other hires in the capital markets team in recent months, including Rachel Farrington from investment bank UBS – who also took a director role – and Alex Janiaud from the Financial Times Group, who started as a senior account manager in March.

Tovey said: “MHP Mischief’s recent growth and the range of their work is impressive, so it’s an exciting time to be changing lanes and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

“I’ve spent more than a decade at The Telegraph developing a deep understanding of some of the most complex companies in the business world and sharing that insight with readers – part of a team boasting some of the brightest, most respected and sometimes even feared journalists covering the corporate environment. I’m delighted to be bringing this experience and perspective to bear on new challenges for MHP Mischief’s clients.”

His appointment comes amid what the agency called “strong growth” in its capital markets team, which has advised on high-profile transactions including the administration of Arcadia Group, Connells Group’s acquisition of Countrywide estate agents, and Ultra Electronics’ recommended acquisition by Cobham.

The team has also recently won a spate of new clients including Coinbase, Bakkavor and CVS Group, and is currently advising on seven IPOs, the agency said.

Oliver Hughes, head of capital markets at MHP Mischief, said: “Alan is one of the best business journalists around and we are thrilled that he has chosen to join us as he moves to the other side. He will bring our clients an expert understanding of how the modern media works and thinks, including the importance of digital and video content, as well as great connectivity with leading figures at the highest levels of industry and government.”

This article was originally shared on PR Week.


Bill Watch: Who will be scrutinising the Health and Care Bill?

Posted on: September 7th, 2021 by Tomas White

As the Bill reaches its Committee stage, there is considerable opportunity for amendments to be tabled to shape, refine and improve it.

But how will the group of MPs sitting on the Health and Care Bill Committee, with their varying backgrounds, interpret, deliberate, and amend this landmark legislation? Alongside some old hands returning to see through this latest piece of health legislation, the Committee includes fresh faces who have expressed interests in adult social care, maternal health, workforce, and of course, the success of ICSs.

Discussion around the shift towards more integrated care systems (ICS) and the strengthening of power in Whitehall will no doubt dominate much of the discussion, together with consideration as to whether the Bill will complete its passage in time for ICSs to be up and running. Indeed, one Committee member has already signalled their intention to vote against the increased powers of the Secretary of State.

Unsurprisingly, a strong majority of the Committee have previously expressed interest in how the increased statutory standings of ICSs will function and we will likely understand more of the detail and their implications as the discussions progress. It is also worth looking out for the nuanced experiences, activity and personal interests of the committee members, which will be crucial in understanding who are the ‘ones to watch’.

Five members of the committee previously voted against the Bill on party lines. Approaching the Bill constructively with a view to its improvement, particularly in areas such as the provision of mental health services, to the authority of ICS Boards, will be key considerations.

Pointers to the areas of focus for the Labour Party might be found in the work of their Policy Commissions, which have so far considered: The impact of COVID-19 (including mental health); securing a sustainable future for social care; supporting well-being and tackling mental ill-health; tackling health inequalities; and recruiting, retaining and supporting the workforce.

One of the sustained criticisms of the Bill has been the lack of a solution to the funding of social care. Whilst its omission is notable, it was not a surprise, and this is unlikely to feature significantly in terms of tangible amendments at Committee. MHP Mischief have researched the members of the Committee, to understand more about how their interests and backgrounds might inform their approach over the coming months.

As we continue to follow the Bill as it progresses through Parliament, we will look to provide analysis of the evolving process and its implications for those working in the sector.

We hope this analysis of the Health and Social Care Bill Committee provides you with further insight as you continue your engagement programmes for 2021

Bill Watch: Who Will Be Scrutinising The Health And Care Bill?



Reducing inequalities in health. How can industry support the new Office for Health Improvement?

Posted on: September 6th, 2021 by Tomas White

On Friday 3rd September it was announced that Secretary of State Sajid Javid had given the go-ahead for the new Office for Heath Improvement and Disparities to launch on the 1st October. As his predecessor Matt Hancock was synonymous with digital and e-health, sources suggest that Mr Javid  is keen to make health inequalities and disparities a main focus of his tenure, perhaps reflecting his position as the first BAME Secretary of State in that Department.

As well as being a personal area of interest, the investment in health inequalities also fits very well with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty’s interest in deprivation and its impact on public health (with the CMO believing we can’t solve issues of public health in England without addressing underlying poverty and health inequalities such as access to services). It also supports No. 10’s wider ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. But as with all new agendas, success will be born from partnership with patient, academic and private sectors, so what might the ‘ask’ of the life sciences industry be in meeting the Department’s new priorities?

COVID-19 has shone a light on just how stark health inequalities are in the UK with individuals from black and minority ethnic groups, poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, deprived locations, and vulnerable groups of society suffering the full force of its effects.

But inequalities in health have existed for many decades and have led to unjust consequences in morbidity and mortality. Life expectancy is a key measure of how healthy a society is: and so inequality in life expectancy or quality of life are key measures of health inequality. In England, there is a systemic relationship between how rich you are and your life expectancy. Men living in the least deprived areas can expect to life 9 years longer than their counterparts in the poorest areas. Inequalities in both healthy life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy are even wider than inequalities in life expectancy.

People in poorer areas spend a far greater part of their already far shorter lives in poor health. The sad fact is that inequalities in health, or future health, begin in utero: higher incidence low birthweight, premature birth, infant mortality and cognitive problems are associated with poor maternal health and deprivation. Evidence shows that a quarter of deaths under the age of 1 could be avoided if we had no health inequalities.

Reducing health inequalities and giving everyone the chance of a positive, healthy life is not just a health or an ethical issue, it makes fiscal sense. As noted in the DHSC release, ill-health amongst working-age people alone costs the economy around £100 billion a year, and it’s estimated that 40% of health care provision in the UK is being used to manage potentially preventable conditions.

So the challenge is clear, but what’s the solution and what could the role of the life sciences sector be in helping all patients, regardless of postcode, get the best chance of a healthier life?

  1. Understand the full extent of the problem. Pharmaceutical communications has, rightly so, become far more patient-centric and based on the lived experiences of real patients. But which patients do we hear from most? Arguably those who are engaged, educated and already part of patient communities. We hear from patients who can articulately describe their experience, who challenge the care they receive and know how to ask for more. I personally hate the term ‘hard to reach’, but industry would do well to listen to a broader choir of voices to fully understand how deprivation impacts the ability to get the best care.
  2. Take the path less trodden. So much of our work is London- or major city centric, whether that be working with specialist centres or the media. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that residing in a city actually adds an extra year to someone’s life. But what about the 25 per cent of the UK that live in rural areas? What about the patient who can’t drive to a specialist centre or knows about the clinical trial currently running?  Industry could focus more outside of its geographical comfort zone to speak to a greater (and arguably more needing) percentage of the population.
  3. Be authentic. Instead of trying to tackle the whole problem, companies need to be able to articulate what their heritage and commitment to reducing health inequalities has been and consider carefully what further value they can add to their patient communities. HSBC, in response to the country’s homelessness crisis, has released a bank account specifically designed for people without a permanent address. Here is a company designing an innovative solution to an established problem in a way which draws upon their expertise. Pharmaceutical companies would do well to think about where they can have the greatest impact, vs trying to impact the greatest number of people.

In summary, industry should be thinking about how to articulate its commitment to meeting the government’s agenda, to improve patient care and outcomes. Pharma has arguably done more than most to understand health inequalities; now that this matches to the government’s agenda so clearly, how can we ensure that the industry’s voice is heard and we are seen as part of the solution? The key will be getting on the front foot and showing Government how the sector has been leading the way vs. waiting to be asked, or even worse, told. In the same way that ‘innovative medicines’ and ‘health technology’ were the focus under Hancock, we now will be asked to answer a different exam question.

The industry needs to evolve its approach in order to answer it.