The fact that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is following the rules and self-isolating for 14 days after coming into contact with COVID-19 is “an important signal” that will help restore trust in public health messaging.
A webinar organised by Future Care Capital heard from a panel including pollster Ben Page, Chief Executive at Ipsos MORI, who said the majority of the public really want to follow the rules and “crack” the COVID virus.
But his researchers found that goodwill has been badly damaged by perceived hypocrisy among political leaders.
A survey commissioned by Future Care Capital, and conducted by Ipsos MORI, analysed some 3,692,129 social media posts, from February to June 2020,
It found that almost half of posts expressing a view felt that as people in government have not been following the rules, why should they.
Mr Page told the webinar: “So driving around Barnard Castle to find out how bad your eyesight is with the virus is a really bad thing to do if you’re wanting to communicate clearly.
“And then having a press conference to defend said behaviour is also really really unhelpful.”
He welcomed that fact that the Prime Minister was self-isolating. “If people had followed the rules early on they may have found some of the other stuff easier”
Another speaker was Jenny Ousbey, Managing Director of communications agency OVID Health.
Her message from the pandemic so far was that “you can’t necessarily tackle facts with facts”. It’s also important to take into account the added dimension of “emotional resonance”
“We’ve seen this in why that trip to Barnard Castle hit home. You’ve seen it in Marcus Rashford’s incredibly effective campaign (on children’s food poverty). Emotional stories carry as much weight as facts and data, particularly when people are being subjected to a tsunami of facts.”
A third panel member was Dan Papworth-Smyth, Head of Digital Engagement at Breast Cancer Now, a charity which had to furlough 70% of its staff in the first lockdown.
He talked about the huge backlog of people who have not been able to have breast scans because of COViD.
And he added that the message that the NHS is “open for everyone” is not getting through.
“We are seeing that people are not going in to speak to their GP. And they are not feeling comfortable with putting any strain on the NHS… they feel it should prioritise COVID patients.”
Chairing the event Greg Allen, CEO at Future Care Capital, said a key question was what is going to happen when we come out of the current lockdown and will it mean a return to confusion.
He said he looked forward to hearing from the panellists on questions including the idea of the public as a partner in promoting public health messages, the impact of the ‘comings and goings’ at 10 Downing Street and also social media as “a force for good.”
A longer report on the event will follow.
For more information on the four publications setting out the Ipsos MORI Communicating Public Health study findings see here