Communications as a key weapon in tackling COVID-19 falsehoods | Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds outlines how the NHS Confederation's #CovidEmergency campaign is combatting the misinformation about COVID-19 that is damaging NHS morale and risking public health.. 

We continue to be in the highest COVID-19 alert level. While the lockdown restrictions are beginning to stem the tide, we know there is still a material risk of some NHS services being overwhelmed. 

Despite this, we continue to face a vocal minority of commentators who believe the threat from the virus is overplayed. This has manifested itself in falsehoods appearing on some national broadcast outlets, with social media being used to amplify a dangerous rhetoric. We know these falsehoods are damaging the morale of NHS staff and, at worst, could encourage some members of the public to choose not to adhere to the lockdown restrictions.

#CovidEmergency

As the membership organisation that brings together, supports, and speaks on behalf of all healthcare organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the NHS confederation will use our platform to promote greater understanding and awareness of the severity of the challenge facing frontline services. 

n recent weeks we have intensified our response to those spreading falsehoods. In early January we launched our #CovidEmergency campaign, tackling sceptics head-on and standing in support of our members. The campaign is based on a few simple truths:

  • The COVID-19 emergency is real.
  • The extra demand on the NHS is real and rising.
  • This is unlike any ‘normal’ winter pressures the NHS has ever faced.

Each week we have produced infographics, Twitter cards and other collateral that provide facts and figures on the severity of the challenge. We have shared them with communications teams in NHS organisations across the country and hope these are useful in your local work. 

Dangerous falsehoods

We continue to gather stories from our members to convey the sustained pressure they are under and how they are working in new ways to manage the pandemic. There has been a conscious attempt in recent weeks by NHS England and NHS Improvement and local NHS organisations to up the ante and ‘show don’t tell’ the public of what frontline services are up against.

Many of you will have seen the harrowing footage from the time that BBC reporter Clive Myrie has spent at The Royal London. In images that have been shown on prime-time TV and across the world, the powerful testimonies of patients and staff have struck a chord with the public. 

These images are being played out on a daily basis in critical care wards and other key services throughout the country. It should not take this access to help combat dangerous falsehoods. But these compelling stories are a key weapon in our armoury to help convince the public to continue to observe the restrictions and do all they can to stop the spread of the virus. 

We stand in support of our members working across hospital, community, mental health and ambulance trusts; primary care networks; clinical commissioning groups; and integrated care systems. They are playing a vital role in responding to the pandemic. The rising tide of disinformation and falsehoods do them a disservice and not only undermine their efforts and morale, but also risk public compliance with the lockdown restrictions. 

We will do all we can to promote greater understanding and awareness of the reality on the frontline.

Follow the campaign on Twitter via #CovidEmergency and access campaign materials on the #CovidEmergency web page.

Daniel Reynolds is director of communications at the NHS Confederation. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielReynolds4

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