Health and Environment: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 14.34.08

Curious PR founder, Hannah Kapff, was recently asked to submit an opinion piece for a PR media title, which got her reflecting on what she does and why…

‘During my years as a broadcast journalist, I was often told I should consider working in PR, but never felt it would provide the same level of ‘buzz’. And if you’re willing to get up each day at 3.30am to make breakfast news programming, you’re clearly someone who’ll jump through hoops to get it!

Yet, when the opportunity to work in healthcare comms (soon followed by sustainability comms) I jumped at it. Why? Because I knew I’d find satisfaction working in science, having always had a passion for it since childhood. Besides, moving to PR meant an end to my nocturnal existence where the occasional supper with friends was spent realising the hours of sleep I’d manage were falling away like sand through the proverbial hour glass. PR also meant a move towards project work – rather than throwing the day’s work in the recycling bin at the end of the day – not even as useful as fish n chip wrapping!

I’d always found science and medicine sexy, and as a 13 year old, I was volunteering for a charity that championed safer food for children. Indeed, being technical yet multi-factorial, health and environmental comms aren’t a million miles away from business news. Both require a broad understanding of the issues at stake, the ability to conduct detailed research, and turn facts or news into interesting, meaningful content that will resonate with the right audiences.

Yet, after 9 years in comms, and probably because I studied environmental science at university, I still feel frustrated by the fact health is viewed and managed as a separate entity to the environment in which we live, whereas the two are intimately intertwined.

Take the UK, which is typical of a highly-industrialised, Western society in that it sees obesity, diabetes, anxiety, loneliness and depression at epidemic levels, with life expectancy for many now falling – despite sophisticated medical breakthroughs.

BREAKING THE SILOS

The interconnections between health and environment can be seen clearly in the care sector, which cannot operate without the NHS or vice versa. Indeed, failure to join them up properly led yet again to last winter’s hospitals crisis, and saw the distasteful term ‘bed blocker’ enter the media lexicon.

When I think about ‘environment’, I am thinking of the planet, but also about the fact the 2011 census revealed a staggering 4M old people living in their own home, with limited day-to-day activities due to a longstanding health condition or disability.

This is a situation that has worsened fast. Hundreds lack basic – let alone compassionate – care, existing in splendid isolation amid ‘too busy to care’ communities. The impact on family members as well as society can be profound: the OECD recently found 15% of the UK’s over-50s acting as informal carers, with many of them battling their own health problems. All this despite the fact ageing is, by definition, predictable.

THINK HOLISTICALLY, PLAN AHEAD

Proper, joined-up thinking requires health prevention, which can be vastly cheaper than treatment. This is where education and strategic comms come in.

On the whole, the will is there to improve the health of those most in need or at risk, but the right messages need to be targeted at the right audiences in motivating ways – not through ‘preaching’ or messages that are de-contextualised.

I get a buzz when healthcare professionals start thinking about issues and solutions in different ways, and realising patients and the economy can both benefit from one option over another.

I also enjoy communicating through periods of change. For sure, change is a given. And if nations can plan their hosting of the World Cup decades ahead, then surely our healthcare needs – and environment – can be planned for, too!’