Coronavirus (1079) Government public health communications

21 November, 2020

Below are extracts from a letter to the BMJ by a UK-based GP. It is a reminder how governments (in this case the UK Government) can forget even the most basic aspects of clear communication. Does anyone have observations of government public health communications in other countries?

CITATION: Covid-19 communication — a matter of life and death? [letter]

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 16 November 2020)

Simon Hodes

Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4390

'In a pandemic everyone in society needs to play their part. This relies on clear communication.

'The UK government website for requesting testing has no information on what you should do while waiting. It omits a key public health message: all household members should self-isolate while the suspected case is seeking and awaiting a swab result. When tests are not available it simply says “This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later . . . try again in a few hours.”

'The Test and Trace website (accessed through the NHS Covid-19 app “Read latest advice” link) does not make it clear that if you have any of the three main symptoms you should seek a test (some patients still think you need all three to qualify).

'In September 2020 there was, as expected, an outbreak of “backtoschoolitis.” Guidelines for keeping kids off school and who should self-isolate were so complicated that many patients and indeed professionals were struggling to interpret the advice...

'Clear communications now are literally a matter of life and death.'


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,