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]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.