“Hard to reach” is no longer an acceptable excuse

Our duty as communicators in addressing health inequality and the social determinants of health

Perhaps one of the few silver linings of COVID-19 is the unprecedented scientific collaboration in tackling the greatest health challenge of modern times.

Unfortunately the same unified approach is not replicated in how society has experienced the pandemic with the mounting crisis of health inequality bubbling noisily under the surface.

According to the latest figures, people living in the UK can now expect to spend more years living in ill health compared to a decade ago and while life expectancy has stalled for many, it has declined for the poorest ten per cent of women.

At election times there is a public fixation on the NHS, but in reality it is sectors outside of health that contribute most significantly to population health outcomes. The social determinants of health such as income and social protection, education, employment and housing play a major role in shaping our health status.

Health beyond healthcare

So, if we consider health to be a universal issue (not just one that falls within the remit of the Health Secretary), then we require a universal solution that all of us must play our part in creating.

As healthcare communications specialists, where can we make the greatest difference?

It is well-embedded in our industry by now that stakeholder engagement and co-creation is essential to develop effective communications campaigns that activate audiences. But if we are honest, how often are these campaigns shaped around the insights and needs of those most affected by health inequality?

Likewise, we have much more awareness nowadays of who our communications programmes are reaching, but how much do we interrogate whether they are resonating with those who arguably need them most?

Our duty as communicators

Those living more on the margins of society may seem hard-to-reach but is that not because we have not spent the time to learn how best to reach them?

Creating inclusive communications campaigns can no longer just be viewed as an opportunity to make a bigger impact. Let’s turn that on its head. It must be viewed as a duty by all communicators worth their salt to ensure everyone is brought on the journey. “Hard to reach” is no longer an acceptable excuse.

Plain language in our communications is an obvious but vital part of the solution, but far greater understanding of how information needs and communications preferences differ across communities is desperately needed so we can segment and tailor effectively.

The success of the COVID-19 vaccination awareness programme may hinge on this very point.

Get in touch if you would like to learn how Aurora is building inclusive communications programmes.

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