Monday, 6 December 2010

How much should Big Business be involved in Public Health?

0Sainsburys, the Supermarket Chain, has announced plans to offer GP's space to set up surgeries  in 204 of their outlets. The premises will be available free of charge and will be secondary to doctor's main surgeries. Sainsburys will also help market the services offered, as well as offering advice on commissioning.

This is a great opportunity for GPs, not only with the increased visibility and accessibility, but also to take advantage of high level marketing. Just how the Governments plans for GP commissioning will take shape is yet to be revealed, but if marketing their services falls within their remit, then experiencing how the experts do it could be extremely useful.

It's a prime example of Business collaborating with the Public Sector, in line with the Big Society agenda, as we discussed in an earlier article. As mentioned there, some may be cynical about the motivating factors, but Sainsburys has been clear in stating that the  extra footfall through their doors is the reason for the initiative.

Less clear cut is the deeper involvement of various food companies in shaping the Government 's public health policies, as reported earlier this month. McDonalds, PepsiCo and Diageo, amongst others, have been recruited into 'Responsibility Deal' networks by Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley. These networks, which also include organisations such as Cancer Research UK, will develop suggestions for policies aimed at tackling national health issues, such as obesity and alcohol abuse. These are expected to form part of the upcoming White Paper.

We suggested in the article above that some may be dubious about such involvement from business, when their primary aim will always be to make more money. Indeed, this has been the reaction from many, fearing that policy will be twisted to financially benefit those involved.

It's a legitimate concern, but is it better to exclude Business from the process?

By working in partnership, they could be influenced to improve their practices, rather than leaving them to their own devices. They also have a lot they can bring to the table, with years of market research, knowledge and experience in their respective areas. Yes, you could argue that this experience is in making the problems worse, but if the current Zeitgeist is for them to make amends, then that experience would still be useful in doing so.

Having Business directly involved from the outset could also bring the benefit of having them help implement and promote policy and the actions that result. In the current climate of tight Public purse strings, the financial strength and marketing power of big brands could make a massive difference.

Traditionally, Businesses involvement in influencing policy is often suspected to involve handshakes and brown envelopes exchanged behind closed doors. To avoid suspicion that the Responsibility Deal Networks are not a more direct version of this, they will have to involve a great deal of transparency. If this isn't forthcoming and we see little of the discussions that take place, then the cynics will remain cynics and those on the fence may not stay there for long.

No comments:

Post a Comment