Cancer in the pandemic. Is Social Media an essential part of the cancer journey?

Nóirín O’Neill. 25 April 2021.

As a patient and a person who has survived a life threatening hemorrhaging form of leukaemia in 2004 at 30 years of age, I care deeply about the emotional and psychological impact of cancer –

Nóirín O’Neill

#EPIChat is back. #EPIChat is an online Twitter community to discuss the Emotional and Psychological Impact of Cancer. It was founded by Nóirín O’Neill in 2014 but after a few years of a break, #EPIChat is returning!

The tweetchat will be held on the first Sunday of each month at 8pm GMT, 9pm CET, 12 noon PST, 3pm EST. The first #EPIChat will be launched on Sunday 2 May 2021. Nóirín is delighted that Womb Cancer UK will be joining her as co-host. Follow @EPIChat2 and @WombCancerUK for further information.

Womb Cancer UK was founded on 11 April 2011 and they recently celebrated their 10th birthday! Womb Cancer UK are a small voluntary not for profit organisation based on the Isle of Bute off the west coast of Scotland but cover the whole of the UK. The aim of Womb Cancer UK is to offer support to women who have been diagnosed with womb cancer and also to raise much needed awareness of the most common gynaecological cancer and the 4th most common cancer in women in the UK.

Now more than ever, patients are going online to discuss their diagnosis, treatment and emotional impact of cancer. Social media has changed the communication landscape for many cancer patients. One recent study has shown that the lockdown measures of the ongoing COVID‐19 pandemic have disengaged patients with cancer from formal health care settings, leading to an increased use of social media platforms to address unmet needs and expectations.

This study also showed that patients with cancer have addressed this void by seeking informational and emotional support on diverse social media platforms. Twitter has been the most widely used platform, with more than two million tweets during this pandemic. Although the short‐form expressions on Twitter are well suited for the fast‐evolving nature of the pandemic and associated challenges, more substantial conversations and discussions are taking place on online cancer support groups (OCSGs). 

Previous research had shown that breast cancer patients are using online support groups and communities to engage with wider social networks, to connect with others navigating similar experiences and obtain cancer related information. Other research with users of the Ovarian Cancer Australia Facebook group showed that OCA Australia enhanced social support, enriched the experience of social connectedness, develops social presence and learning and ultimately improves the psychological well‐being of cancer patients.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of Social Network Sites (SNS) and Online Cancer Support Groups (OCSGs). We would love if you could join us on Sunday 2 May 2021 and hear your views!

Twitter Chat Questions

On Sunday 2 May 2021 at 8pm GMT, 9pm CET, 12 noon PST, 3pm EST, Nóirín O’Neill will co-host a Twitter chat with Womb Cancer UK. This Twitter chat will provide an opportunity to discuss issues surrounding the emotional and psychological impact of cancer during a pandemic.

T1: Twitter and other forms of social media are a useful online tool for cancer patients in the pandemic? Why do you think this is?

T2: What are the benefits and the pitfalls of discussing the emotional and psychological impact of cancer on social media?

T3: Do you think that social media is now an essential part of the cancer journey? Can cancer patients live without it?

T4: Closing Thoughts.

Join us on Sunday 2 May 2021 using hashtag #EPIChat. We look forward to our conversations!

Further information about Womb Cancer UK

Womb Cancer UK invite all women who are newly diagnosed, currently undergoing treatment or are in remission to join them on their Facebook page. They also have a private support group available on Facebook where women who have been diagnosed with womb cancer. Womb Cancer UK are LGBT inclusive and assure confidentiality at all times.


Cancer in Lockdown: Impact of the COVID‐19 Pandemic on Patients with Cancer

Erfani, S.S., Abedin, B. and Blount, Y. (2017), The effect of social network site use on the psychological well‐being of cancer patients. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68: 1308-1322.

Falisi, A.L., Wiseman, K.P., Gaysynsky, A. et al. Social media for breast cancer survivors: a literature review. J Cancer Surviv 11, 808–821 (2017).

Nóirín O’Neill was shortlisted for PR Student Blogger of the Year (UK Universities) in 2020 by the PR Academy. Nóirín is currently completing an MSc in PR & Communication (Healthcare Comms) at Ulster University. Nóirín is a freelance blogger and also welcomes guest blog posts on healthcare issues. Any requests should be sent to

Women’s Mental Health, Violence and Trauma- Podcast Review

By Nóirín O’Neill on 20 March 2021

This week we have been listening to Doolally Tap A Women’s Mental Health Podcast. In this episode, Amy and Cerys interview Mary, the survivor of a violent attack and a Chartered Counselling Psychologist/trauma expert.

This episode called “Breaking Down The Mountain: Trauma and Meaning in an Uncertain World” was published on 8 March, 2021 and the recording runs for just over 43 minutes. This podcast shines a light on violent trauma, how faith is linked to recovery and coping mechanisms.

At the start of the podcast, a warning is given to listeners that the events described in the podcast could be triggering or distressing. Likewise, we apply that same warning to our blog post here.

Amy interviewed a young mother called Mary who was violently assaulted whilst crossing the road on her way to a job interview. Mary felt a “searing pain in her back” when she was stabbed with an eight inch knife by a person who she described as a “mentally ill man who was lashing out at his demons in his mind.”

Mary who had studied psychology speaks about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Richard Dawkins and how she did not feel safe anywhere following the stabbing. Mary describes how she suffered extreme anxiety and talked about her fears following the stabbing. Mary felt like she was in “world of chaos” and for some time afterwards, the trauma hid away in her brain and came back with a vengeance. Mary eventually speaks to her GP, obtained professional help and “broke down the mountain”.

Photo by cottonbro on

A chartered counselling psychologist with over 17 years experience working in the NHS provides the professional perspective on violent trauma in the podcast. We learn about the science of trauma to the brain, the impact of violent trauma and the different ways in which our survival brain works and our thinking brain works. This psychologist works with people who have experienced violent trauma which has caused things such as sleeping difficulties, OCD and eating difficulties.

The counselling psychologist speaks about the benefits of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) for people affected by violent trauma which helps with the de-shaming, the de-blaming and the self-criticism. It was acknowledged that not everyone will be able to access therapies such as CFT. Emphasis is placed on the value of activating the five senses, using essential oils, soothing scents, incense or anything that invokes calm and dampens the threat system, especially during flashbacks. We are also encouraged to have a soothing box with photos and items that invoke calm and a weighted blanket.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on

In their discussion, Amy and Cerys take us on a journey through trauma, feelings of despair, mental collapse, blankets of futility, hopelessness and meaning making. Amy and Cerys are both English Literature graduates and during the podcast, we hear a reading of The Way It Is by William Stafford and discussions about children’s literature. It is lovely to see how poetry and children’s literature are being used to support and enhance mental and emotional wellbeing and how we can look forward with hope rather than despair. Cerys also speaks about the importance of activating your soothing system – touch, scent, taste, soft blanket, soft pet and unhooking from dark difficult thoughts to calm yourself down.

Overall, this podcast episode has real stories from real women who are openly discussing their mental health challenges and coping mechanisms. If you are interested in women’s mental health issues, the lived experience of violent trauma, the professional perspective, english literature and psychology this is definitely one to put on your list. The podcast is just over 45 minutes long and is in three sections. so it can be listened to in chunks. The podcast has links to resources if you or anyone you know need help with trauma which we have also shared below.

Amy and Cerys are both English Literature graduates and during the podcast, two poems are read out by Amy. The Way It Is by William Stafford; Mont Blanc : Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni by P.B. Shelley. It is lovely to see how poetry is being used to support and enhance mental and emotional wellbeing and how we can look forward with hope rather than despair.

**This blog post does not constitute healthcare advice. Always see your GP if you require professional help. **

LINKS and the pandemic

Mont Blanc : Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni by P.B. Shelley.


Nóirín O’Neill was shortlisted for PR Student Blogger of the Year (UK Universities) in 2020 by the PR Academy. Nóirín is currently completing an MSc in PR & Communication (Healthcare Comms) at Ulster University. Nóirín is the founder of O’Neill Healthcare Communications Consultants launched on International Women’s Day 2021. Nóirín is a freelance blogger and also welcomes guest blog posts on healthcare issues. Any requests should be sent to


By Nóirín O’Neill, 13 March 2021

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Health communication is the science and art of using communication to advance the health and well-being of people and populations. Each week, we offer recommendations on the best podcasts to listen to! We really love impactful healthcare communication to help us all through lockdown!

We have all developed a powerful resilience and flexibility during this pandemic that we could never learn through a course. The pandemic has taught us something very special psychologically. It has made people reconnect with what is important and breathe in nature. In this unrelenting pace of the modern world, life is happening in front of our faces.

Niall Breslin

In July 2019, Niall Breslin launched a podcast called Where Is My Mind? which focuses on mental health and wellbeing. In episode 44 out last week, Bressie speaks to clinical psychologist and author of “Time to Breathe” Dr Bill Mitchell about lockdown frustrations and the inevitable burnout the world has experienced. Whilst the podcast starts off with a bit of noisy angry music which we suggest fast forwarding through, it ends off with a relaxing mindfulness session.

Our 12 key takeaways!

  1. Shape a day that works for you – organize a block of time for you eg. yoga, a walk, connecting with the kids.
  2. Stay connected with purpose and the ability to take control of some things whilst we can’t control others.
  3. Be compassionate to yourself and others.
  4. Be kind.
  5. The way we feel is partly rooted in our physiology. This affects our mood, anxiety states and the way we feel. Look at what you are eating and your exercise.
  6. Pull back the anger and frustration and replace it with empathy and humanity.
  7. Be open to views which are not ours.
  8. Do not overschedule your children’s activities when they go back!
  9. Be careful of social media and random things that hit you hour by hour.
  10. Make positive decisions every day that help your mental health.
  11. Make better decisions to manage your psychological health.
  12. Do not take your psychological resilience for granted. Look at what affects your energy and your mood and put a structure in place around that.
Listen to this blog post on spotify

Nóirín O’Neill was shortlisted for PR Student Blogger of the Year (UK Universities) in 2020 by the PR Academy. Nóirín is currently completing an MSc in PR & Communication (Healthcare Comms) at Ulster University. Nóirín is the founder of O’Neill Healthcare Communications Consultants launched on International Women’s Day 2021. Any requests for guest blogging should be sent to

#HealthcareComms #MentalHealth #TimeToBreathe #PRStudent #BestPRBlogs #ThisWeekInPR #PodcastsforBrainBreaks

Cumberlege Review: First Do No Harm Report – a round up.

8 July 2020.

Photo by Alexas Fotos on

The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, chaired by Baroness Julia Cumberlege, has published its report “First Do No Harm” today. In a letter to the Secretary of State dated 8 July 2020, Baroness Julia Cumberlege acknowledges that this report is being published at a time when the NHS are facing “enormous challenges” arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Report runs to 277 pages and is accompanied by additional documentation which is downloadable. The Terms of Reference outlined how the Review would engage with patient campaign groups and other stakeholders. The Review’s approach was to “listen, learn and recommend” stating that they would listen to those who had suffered harm.

The three areas we were asked to explore, primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh, were new to us so we travelled the country, not only England but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We met and listened to over 700 people, mostly women, often accompanied by their partners, other family members and sometimes their children. We are indebted to all of them. Their dignity and courage in telling us intimate and harrowing details of their damaged lives has made a great and lasting impression on us.”

Baroness Cumberlege (2020)

My summary of the nine recommendations

Recommendation 1:

An immediate and fulsome apology should be issued by the Government on behalf of the healthcare system to the families affected by primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh.

Recommendation 2:

A Patient Safety Commissioner should be appointed who would be an independent public leader with a statutory responsibility. The Patient Safety Commissioner would champion the value of listening to patients and promoting users’ perspectives in seeking improvements to patient safety around the use of medicines and medical devices.

Recommendation 3:

Creation of a new independent Redress Agency for those harmed by medicines and medical devices based on models operating effectively in other countries. Administration of decisions using a non-adversarial process with determinations based on avoidable harm looking at systemic failings, rather than blaming individuals.

Recommendation 4:

Setting up of “cost of care” schemes for each intervention – HPTs, valproate and pelvic mesh – to meet the cost of providing additional care and support to those who have experienced avoidable harm and are eligible to claim.

Recommendation 5:

Setting up of networks of specialist centres to provide comprehensive treatment, care and advice for those affected by implanted mesh; and separately for those adversely affected by medications taken during pregnancy.

Recommendation 6:

Substantial revision of the MHRA particularly in relation to adverse event reporting and medical device regulation. More engagement with patients and their outcomes required and ensure patients have an integral role in its work.

Recommendation 7:

A central patient-identifiable database should be created by collecting key details of the implantation of all devices at the time of the operation.

Recommendation 8:

Improvement of transparency of payments made to clinicians. The General Medical Council (GMC) register needs to be expanded to include a list of financial and non-pecuniary interests for all doctors, as well as doctors’ particular clinical interests and their recognised and accredited specialisms.
Mandatory reporting for the pharmaceutical and medical device
industries of payments made to teaching hospitals, research institutions
and individual clinicians.

Recommendation 9:

Task force to be established by the Government to implement this Review’s recommendations.



First Do No Harm (2020) The report of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review. Available from: [Accessed 8 July 2020]

Clinical Negligence, Patient Safety and COVID-19: A monthly round up of must-read articles [June 2020]

30 June 2020

Photo by Edward Jenner

The pandemic is not a licence to act negligently, but the standards to be expected reflect the realities on the front line of healthcare. What would be negligent at any other time, might not be during this crisis – the pandemic may render reasonable what would usually be unreasonable.

(Mr Nigel Poole QC, 2020)

Welcome to my round up of must-read articles recently published on COVID-19, clinical negligence and patient safety. Here, I provide a round up of some of the key themes, information and opinions which are emerging online. This blog post does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances.

I will be putting the lens on articles and blog posts from Mr John Tingle, Lecturer in Law at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham (UK), Mr Nigel Poole, Clinical Negligence QC, Head of Kings Chambers, Dr Daniel Sokol, clinical negligence barrister at 12KBW, medical ethicist and award winning medical journalist, Mr Isaac Hogarth, specialist clinical negligence barrister at 12KBW and Mr Peter Walsh, CEO of AvMA (with their kind permission).

I am acutely aware that this blog post is being published during a pandemic and at a time when many healthcare professionals are doing phenomenal work. I am a MSc Student in Public Relations and Communication (Healthcare Communication) specialism and am sharing my research and learning which I have collected and organised. This may be of value to fellow healthcare communication students, law students, lawyers, patients and healthcare professionals.

How will COVID-19 affect clinical negligence litigation in England and Wales?

A blog post was published on 23 April 2020 by Mr Nigel Poole QC on his blog “Learned Friend” setting out his opinion on how the coronavirus will affect clinical negligence litigation in England and Wales. Mr Poole QC is also the author of Clinical Negligence Made Clear: A Guide for Patients & Professionals published in October, 2019.

Mr Poole QC has opined that “context is all” ie., the present context will be of great significance when the courts weigh up whether a Trust or a professional has acted negligently during this period. Mr Poole QC in his blog draws a distinction between patients who do not present to a GP or A & E because of the pandemic and patients affected by delay in diagnosis. For further information, read the full blog post here.

Mr Poole QC states that “the resource implications of the pandemic would…be taken into account by the Court. What would have previously been an inexcusable delay in the system, might be regarded as acceptable in the current circumstances.”

Significantly, Mr Poole QC stated that “an expert that has no direct experience of working in the circumstances that currently prevail, will not be able to assist the court as well as another expert who does have that information and experience.”

Mr Poole QC is hosting a free webinar on 3 July 2020 at 12.30pm entitled Clinical Negligence Made Clear- The Impact of Coronavirus on Clinical Negligence Litigation. The hashtag for the event is #CNMC and it is for patients, healthcare professionals, law students and clinical negligence lawyers.

COVID-19 and ICU Triage

However, it would be a mistake for doctors to think that working in a stressful covid ward in and of itself provides immunity against negligence claims. Even in challenging circumstances, there are mistakes that no reasonably competent doctor would make.”  

(Sokol, 2020)

Dr. Daniel Sokol’s blog – the Medical Ethicist is a mine of information for COVID-19 articles. At the time of writing this blog post, I identified at least six relevant articles (i) Developing an ICU Triage Protocol for COVID-19 (ii) Can non-specialty doctors on covid wards still be sued? (iii) An interview with Dr Daniel Sokol on the COVID-19 ICU Triage Protocol (iv) Where are the ICU triage protocols (v) ICU Triage Protocol: decision making for intensive care triage in COVID-19 emergency and (vi) The life and death decisions of COVID-19

Dr. Sokol is also the author of Tough Choices: Stories from the Front Line of Medical Ethics (2018).


“The BMA has advised its members not to accept redeployment outside their competence, although in the real world (and where doctors are trying their best to cover rota gaps), it is probably unrealistic to expect all redeployed doctors to have the relevant up-to-date training. It is inevitable that this will lead to challenges in patient safety, and it is probable that some patients will suffer harm.” (Isaac Hogarth, 2020)

Mr Isaac Hogarth, specialist clinical negligence and personal injury barrister discusses “the issue of the standard of care to be applied to redeployed doctors in a Covid-19 setting. He suggests that legislation would be required to lay down any proposed modifications to the standard of care” in his recent blog post. Mr Hogarth suggests that any such legislation should be narrow in its terms so as not to curtail important patient rights.

The blog post entitled “Standard of care in a clinical setting during the Covid-19 crisis” published on 1 June 2020 sets out the law on standard of care and a detailed consideration of established principles in the context of Covid-19. Mr Hogarth clarifies that “whilst the Coronavirus Act contains provisions to ensure that redeployed health workers are indemnified (see section 11(3)(b)), it does nothing to alter the standard of care under which they are required to operate. ”

Mr Hogarth is also the author of “A Practical Guide to Sepsis and Meningitis Claims” published in November, 2019.

Legal Immunity

We need to resist calls to give legal immunity from clinical negligence claims to doctors and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts and judges should be trusted to deal with such claims fairly and patients’ rights to claim for negligence respected. Faith in our civil justice compensation system should be maintained during COVID-19. (John Tingle, 2020)

The MDU called for national debate over protecting NHS from COVID-19 clinical negligence claims stating that “doctors should be spared from the stress and anxiety of medical negligence claims following the pandemic.” John Tingle opined that this is not the time to call for what amounts to root and branch tort law reform. He stated that “the call seems to omit the patient’s right to claim compensation for negligent injuries caused to them by those who were meant to care for them.” The full article is entitled COVID-19 and Clinical Negligence litigation, law reform and is published on the University of Birmingham blog.

This issue is also examined by Dr Sokol in his blog post entitled “Can non-specialty doctors on covid wards still be sued?” published on 16 April, 2020.

Dr Sokol raised a question: “Would an orthopaedic or ophthalmic surgeon on the medical ward, fulfilling the role of a medical registrar, be given some slack by the courts? In other words, is the standard of care expected of these doctors lower than it would otherwise be?” The short answer is no. The expected standard of care and skill will be based on the post that the doctor is fulfilling at the time of the alleged breach,” Dr Sokol said.

Patient Safety Issues

A further four articles have been published online in the British Journal of Nursing written by Mr John Tingle, Lecturer in Law at Birmingham Law School and are a rich source of reliable information with links to relevant case law and further literature. The articles are entitled (i) COVID-19 safety in maternity care lessons for the whole NHS (ii) patient safety round-ups during COVID-19 pandemic (iii) patient safety and litigation in the NHS post COVID-19 and (iv) Litigation and patient–carer, safety issues in the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr Tingle discusses multiple issues to include (i) legal, ethical and patient safety issues (ii) restriction of patient choice in a crisis (ii) responsibilities of employers, employees, PPE, staff safety and the employment relationship (iii) refusal to treat where PPE is inadequate (iv) the role of tort law (v) indemnity issues (vi) legal immunity (vii) moral and legal rights to sue for negligence (viii) risk areas such as equipment and pharmaceutical manufacture (ix) the US perspective (x) clinical guidelines and the law.

Mr Tingle is also a guest blogger on the Harvard Law School blog and a new post COVID-19 Clinical Negligence and Patient Safety Update was published on 17 June 2020. Mr Tingle highlights that a key issue will be whether medical practitioners followed relevant clinical guidelines.

Call for urgent action on non COVID-19 diagnostics and treatment

Whilst the drastic action taken at the start of the current pandemic to protect patients, staff and the NHS by closing down many NHS services other than those treating COVID-19 patients was understandable, AvMA is increasingly concerned about the consequences for patients with other conditions which need urgent treatment or diagnostic procedures.We have already been receiving enquiries from patients or their families where the unavailability of such services appears to have resulted in avoidable harm or even death. Solicitors around the country tell us that they have also.”

Peter Walsh (2020)

Mr Peter Walsh, CEO of AvMA has published two articles on the AvMA blog entitled “Saving lives threatened by COVID19 is rightly a priority, but many more can be saved by improving patient safety” and “Urgent action required to prevent avoidable harm and deaths amongst non COVID-19 patients”

AvMA have called on the UK Government to address the unavailability of urgent diagnostics and treatment for thousands of non COVID-19 patients and will be creating a petition on the UK Government website.

(Not the) Annual Clinical Negligence Conference -AvMA 25 June 2020

Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) held the (Not the) Annual Clinical Negligence Conference on 25 June 2020. My own best moments as a remote follower of the online conference are contained in the tweet below.


This blog post does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances.

Continue reading Clinical Negligence, Patient Safety and COVID-19: A monthly round up of must-read articles [June 2020]

Year of the Staycation: Tips for planning your simple holiday at home: Exploring Fermanagh 💚

By Nóirín O’Neill

16 June 2020

Photo by Steven Hylands on

With the announcement yesterday of further relaxations to the Coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland for the tourism and hospitality industries, it is time to start planning your staycation! Caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation are permitted to re-open on 26 June and hotels are scheduled to re-open on 3 July.

We all have our part to play in encouraging domestic tourism to help recovery. Over the coming months, I will continue to round up as much information as I can, to help you plan activities for your staycation.

The Discover Northern Ireland website has a useful tool which will also help you to find a giant experience on your next short break. I also downloaded the National Trust – Days Out App and permitted access to my location so that the app syncs all the places I have visited and places I want to visit on my device.

For busy people, this App is invaluable as it provides “the basics” which include mileage from your location, directions on a map by car, bus and a cycle route. It also sets out the price for non members and details of the facilities and access at the National Trust properties. Most importantly, if you wish to visit a National Trust property, you should check to see if it is open on the App or the website and then pre- book your tickets for an allocated time slot to avoid disappointment.

We pay £10.50 monthly for our family National Trust Membership and it is worth its weight in gold. There are three National Trust properties in Fermanagh – Crom, Florencecourt and Castle Coole. It seems that Florencecourt and Castle Coole were re-opened by National Trust Fermanagh on 3 June 2020 as part of the phased re-opening of their parklands and gardens.

The parkland and toilets are open at Castle Coole but the house, café, shop and play area are currently closed. It is amazing how quickly children adapt to the new normal. Before COVID-19, our trips to a National Trust property revolved around the play area and treats in the café. Now, during COVID-19, we bring a small picnic in the backpack, water bottles, hand sanitisers, wellies, waterproofs, sun cream and our phones fully charged for long walks.

Our eight year old also loves to use the Picture This- Plant identifier App which is described as “Botanist in your pocket” to identify plants. This App uses revolutionary artificial intelligence technology to help with identification of plants and flowers. We also play Bug Detective using the Picture Insect: Bug Identifier which is great fun especially for identifying butterflies.

This App has been the secret to keeping our child interested in the world around her as we clock up the kilometres. Our gallery of photographs is growing larger and we are amazed at how our knowledge of plants and trees is increasing with every walk. The National Trust highlight the importance for everyone to have “fresh air, birdsong, big skies and open spaces to enjoy” and Castle Coole does not disappoint!

What to Expect?

We arrived at Castle Coole by car and were met by two staff who were very pleasant and adhered to social distancing guidelines. As National Trust members, we had pre-booked our free tickets on the website. I was asked for my name and I was able to show our family National Trust membership card out through the window of the car. The staff member did a quick headcount and provided us with information relating to the one way system and directions to the car- park.

Castle Coole is located off the A4 road to Belfast and the car park is located beside the reception and tea-room area. As expected, the house, shop and tea-room are closed at Castle Coole as COVID-19 restrictions are in place.


After a quick vote, we decided to do a circular walk starting at the back of the historic house on the Beech Walk. After a few hundred metres, we noticed a detour path to the left up to the 18th century Ice House into Beech Wood. The Gortgonnell path is a pleasant gentle circular 3 km walk which our eight year old completed at ease, whilst chasing butterflies and skipping along listening to the birds.

The highlight of the walk for our eight year old child was spotting three elegant blue damselflies dancing on the shore of Lake Coole. Apart from damselfly spotting, our eight year old had a great sense of achievement that she had completed a 3km trail. The NHS recommends that children aged between 5 and 18 should be aiming for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day across the week to strengthen muscles and bones.

Castle Coole is definitely worth a visit and I am looking forward to more outings to complete the easy 30 minute 1.8 km Lake Walk Trail around Coole Lake and the paths on the 1.9km Castle Coole Beech Trail through Beech Wood. Bring it on!


Creativity in Public Relations – a student perspective

By Nóirín O’Neill

15 April 2020

Public relations practitioners are now living in unprecedented times.  The world has changed since the announcement of a COVID19 pandemic on 11 March 2020 by the World Health Organisation.

“The coronavirus outbreak and the extraordinary measures brought in to protect public health have had an unprecedented impact on the public relations industry.” (McCapra and Ingham, CIPR, 2020)

The dominant narrative is that of Green (2007) who has stated that the definition of creativity can be placed into one of four categories which are (i) creativity as an individual talent (ii) creativity as a process (iii) creativity as a product and (iv) recognition by others. (Green, 2007: 5-7).

The context for creative acts at present is the global health emergency which is causing an existential threat to freelancers and self-employed public relations practitioners. (CIPD, 2020).

Creativity is not something that is set in stone like a mandatory policy, procedure or workflow but rather a process that should be followed, a skill that can be acquired or a tool that can be used.

Creativity in public relations practice has also been linked to “creative execution” in digital and social communications given the “polluted environment” of online content (Moloney and McGrath, 2019: 93).

Image courtesy of EcoWorld Reactor: I’m not creative.

Current discourses about creativity in public relations

Current discourses about creative industries are revolving around the economic implications of COVID -19. (Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, 2020) and how arts and cultural charities are under threat.  A Bectu survey of over 5600 creative freelancers revealed that 97% are of the opinion that the government is failing to respond to their concerns during the pandemic. (Bectu, 2020).Discourses around creativity on the main public relations platforms (PR News, 2020) are currently focused on global brands. For example, Coca Cola is using its “iconic billboard in Times Square, New York City to spread health advice during COVID-19” (McAteer, O. 2020). This campaign was created by Mercado McCann a well- known Argentine creative agency in their creative hub.

Image courtesy of EcoWorld Reactor: INNSPIRE Great Quotes.


Even the United Nations have launched an open brief for creatives everywhere to “help spread public health messages.” (United Nations, 2020).  The United Nations Secretary General António Gutteres announced the following:

We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply. We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.”  (United Nations, 2020)”


It is contended that the definition of creativity in public relations will need to be updated to include new categories such as (i) creativity as a public health tool (ii) creativity as an act of solidarity and (iii) creativity as an act of humanity. 😃😘😃


Bectu (2020) Government has completely lost the confidence of freelancers, Bectu survey finds.  Bectu. London. Available from:[Accessed on 31 March 2020]

CIPR (2020) CIPR- PRCA issue joint statement on covid 19 outbreak. Available from–prca-issue-joint-statement-on-covid-19-outbreak/%5BAccessed on 31 March 2020]

Coca Cola (2020) How the coca cola company is responding to the coronavirus outbreak.[Accessed 10 April 2020] 

Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (2020) The impact of covid 19 on arts and cultural charities. London. Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre. Available from:  [Accessedon 31 March 2020]

Matthews, M. (2011) Connecting Creativity and Critical Thinking to the Campaign Planning Process. Communication Teacher.  v25 n1 p61-67 Jan 2011. 7 pp.

McAteer, O. (2020) Coke goes big with COVID social distancing in Times Square. Campaign Live. New York. Available from:  [Accessed on 10 April 2020].

Moloney, K, & McGrath, C 2019, Rethinking Public relations: Persuasion, Democracy andSociety, Routledge, Milton. Available from: ProQuest eBook Central. [4 April 2020].

PR News (2020) How brands are employing creative COVID-19 messaging. Available from:  [Accessed 10 April 2020]

United Nations (2020) Global Call to Creatives:  An Open Brief from the United Nations. Available from: [Accessed 30 March 2020]

Studying Healthcare Communication during a Pandemic. COVID-19 Chapter 1

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It’s a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.” – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

I am a full time MSc Student in Public Relations and Communication (Healthcare Communication) specialism at Ulster University since September, 2019.

On 11 March 2020 a COVID- 19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation in a Virtual press conference.

WHO Situation Report 51 has changed our lives forever and it feels like a new real time Star Wars movie has just commenced. (WHO, 2020)

Looking back

In the first term, I studied Leadership and Management in Healthcare. In one assignment, I had to identify key leadership and management issues relating to influenza vaccination of healthcare workers in the context of a mass media campaign in a hypothetical local healthcare trust. The next step was to set out a (i) leadership strategy (ii) a management strategy (iii) strategies evaluation and (iv) identify potential issues impacting on the leadership and management strategies.

My hypothetical management strategy was built upon the themes of accountability, social responsibility and corporate responsibility. (Department of Health, 2012). My hypothetical leadership strategy was built upon the nine dimensions of the healthcare leadership model (NHS Leadership Academy, 2014).

My focus was on a deeper investigation of the World Health Organization case study (2015) and the Tailored Immunization Programme (TIP) in Montenegro as an exemplar. I also looked a recent study funded by the Flemish Agency for Care and Health (Boey et al, 2018) which included interviews of influenza campaign co-ordinators about factors which led to the success or failure in their own campaigns.

The two main pillars of my hypothetical management strategy were (i) Public Health/Infection Control and (ii) Opt in/opt out approach. I had proposed setting up a dedicated management team and an influenza vaccination think tank with experts drawn from the various fields of expertise to include (i) immunology (ii) infectious diseases (iii) epidemiology (iv) vaccinology and (v) virology.

I conducted a hypothetical SWOT analysis. The Royal College of Surgeons spokesperson had just stated that the Northern Ireland healthcare system was at the point of collapse. (Connolly, 2019b) A number of problems were identified as contributing to the problem and included insufficient funding, poor workforce planning and lack of government. I also identified multiple threats which are complex to include a health outbreak in Northern Ireland.

The situation which arose with the HSE over Christmas 2019 was instructive. The HSE identified that particular bed placement for infection prevention and control adversely affected patient flow in an already challenged health system. (Bowers, 2019) A lack of surge capacity in the system and lack of isolation facilities across the country was a concern for the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine. (Bowers, 2019)

The present

Every day, we are bombarded with information regarding COVID 19. It is evident on a daily basis that our healthcare trusts have robust leadership and management strategies with contingency plans in place. This pandemic has been the ultimate test for our leaders and managers. They are rising to the challenge on an hour by hour basis.

The future

We are now living in a changed environment. This means that there needs to be a culture of flexibility and not fear – in our own lives and in our organisations so that our healthcare leaders, managers and political leaders can respond quickly to changing priorities in the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months ahead.

I imagine that there will be an explosion of literature following this #COVID19 pandemic and the future direction of healthcare communication courses will be changed forever.

Studying healthcare communication during the COVID-19 pandemic is the steepest learning curve I have ever experienced in my entire life.

May the force be with you- Obi Wan Kenobi


Boey, L. Bral, C. Roelants M. De Schryver, A., Godderis, L. Hoppenbrouwers, K. Vandermeulen, C. (2018) Attitudes, believes, determinants and organisational barriers behind the low seasonal influenza vaccination uptake in healthcare workers – a cross sectional survey. Vaccine. 2018; 36 (23): 3351-3358.

Bowers, F. (2019) Emergency Consultants dispute HSE flu claim. Dublin. RTE. Available from: [accessed 1 January 2020

Connolly, M.L (2019) Children’s flu vaccine: PHA downplays fears over delays. Belfast: BBC News Northern Ireland. Available from: [accessed 1 January 2020]

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (2012) Code of Conduct and Code of Accountability for Board Members of Health & Social Care Bodies. Belfast. Available from: [accessed 13 November 2019].

NHS Leadership Academy (2014) The Healthcare Leadership Model- The nine dimensions of leadership behaviour. NHS Leadership Academy. Available from: [accessed 14 November 2019]

World Health Organization (2015) Tailoring immunization programmes for seasonal influenza (TIP FLU). Understanding health care workers’ uptake of seasonal influenza vaccination in Montenegro: a case study for policy- makers and programme managers. Available from: [Accessed 15 November 2019]

World Health Organisation (2020) Situation Report No. 51 issued 11 March 2020. Available from [Accessed 26 March 2020]

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Self care, public health messaging and moral responsibilities during a global health emergency – a patient perspective

By Nóirín O’Neill

16 April 2020

As a patient and a person who has survived a life – threatening haemorrhaging form of leukemia in 2004 at 30 years of age, I care deeply about patient involvement, patient empowerment and self-care.  I know that self- care will help me as a patient to live better with my health condition and that in turn can help the NHS to exist more sustainably too.

We all know that if patients take charge of their own health with the support of their healthcare team, they feel more empowered. It is about working together to make those changes to improve their health.  Self help apps are designed to help us solve our problems and change our behavior but they can also make us feel angry, frustrated and a failure. The coronavirus outbreak has taught us that our future is not in the hands of algorithms and automated processes completely.  It has also taken self-care to an entirely new sphere. Public health messaging is focused on the individual health message to “take care of your health and protect others.” (WHO, 2020).

This concept is not new to me. As a leukaemia patient, I was in isolation on multiple occasions for various infections in hospital including the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)which comes back to haunt me now. Visits by family and friends were severely restricted, rigorous handwashing was in place for everyone, no towels and fans were allowed on the haematology ward due to risk of infection. Nurses and doctors were often wearing masks and aprons when administering chemotherapy and drugs to protect themselves and other patients from infection.

However, one critic of the messaging in the WHO Covid 19 campaign has opined that public  health messages that focus on the individual do not work. It has been suggested that when a health message is framed so that people should heed their moral responsibility and people should do particular things that we can all do for each other, it is more likely to be effective.

#ebnjc Twitter Chat 8 April 2020

On Wednesday 8 April 2020 at 8pm (UK time) EBN @EBNursingBMJ will host a Twitter chat that provides the opportunity to discuss issues surrounding self care: a moral responsibility during a global health emergency.

  1. Is self- care a moral responsibility during a global health emergency or always?
  2. Do public health messages that focus on the individual work or not?
  3. Should the focus of all public health messages be on moral responsibility? Eg. Awareness of UV radiation.
  4. What lessons can be learned for self-care strategies and health messaging for the future arising out COVID19.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for UK employers. Available at

Coronavirus Covid-19. Available at

Covid-19: Health message focus on individual ‘does not work’Available at:

World Health Organisation. Available at

(Also published on )