How a public health campaign empowered people to Stay Well This Winter

Written by Naomi Larsson on 12 October 2018

After it won the Civil Service Communication Award last year, Helen Duggan, head of marketing for Public Health England, reflects on how the Stay Well This Winter campaign leveraged people's trust in health professionals to change their behaviour

Photo: PA

Winter is a “really tough time” for health services in the UK, says Helen Duggan, head of marketing for Public Health England. Hospitals reach capacity and staff are under extreme pressure as more people become vulnerable to illness in this colder period.

But there’s a lot of work going on to try to help alleviate these challenges. Duggan is part of a collaborative campaign between Public Health England, the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS England called Stay Well This Winter. It’s designed to encourage people to take preventative measures during the colder months when they’re most at risk of ill health, so they can avoid having to go to hospital.

“Encouraging people to stay well in winter was an absolute priority given pressures to the NHS,” says Duggan.

“It’s all about encouraging people who are vulnerable to ill health in winter to take preventative steps to stay well. The old, the frail, people with long-term health conditions, young children – it’s things like getting a flu jab, or going to pharmacies at the first sign of a winter illness.”

Other steps include keeping your home warm – especially for older people – and eating well or stocking up on medicines.

Duggan says pharmacies are often an underused resource, despite being a place where you can easily get healthcare advice. Part of the campaign was about making people aware of these services that are easily available to them. It’s about “empowering patients to take early, easy steps to help the NHS help them”. Duggan and her colleagues wanted to show that the pharmacies are there to help too, to send the message of “come and talk to us. Early advice from a healthcare professional can be so important,” she says.

“It’s not saying don’t go to your GP, but we know getting people into the right places is really important too.”

In the campaign’s first year, 1.28 million extra people visited pharmacies for advice, which rose to 1.85 million the following year.

Following these results, Stay Well This Winter won the 2017 Civil Service Communication Award. Duggan puts the success in part down to developing a deep insight into their target audiences and “understanding how we could activate them into action”.

“We showcased real healthcare professionals, real nurses, doctors, pharmacists giving advice to our key target audiences, and encouraging them to take simple steps to stay well.

This worked because “there’s huge trust in the NHS, huge respect”, she says. “We know that advice given from a healthcare professional is one of the most powerful levers for behaviour change.”

Stay Well This Winter has developed year on year and over time the campaign has established partnerships with a wide range of organisations to help increase the reach, Duggan says.

They’ve worked hand in hand with pharmacies to make sure they have the materials to support the campaign. The Fire and Rescue Service gave out thermometers during 80,000 visits to vulnerable homes. Local authorities have also been using campaign materials in libraries and children centres. And British Gas engineers assisted with distributing leaflets to 390,000 customers. “You can exponentially increase the reach of your campaign by working in partnership with organisations,” she says. “The collaboration has been the heart of our success.

“It’s nice to work on a campaign where you’re helping people who might not otherwise seek the help they need.”

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