Clutching at straws?

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

press_gazetteThe campaign to replace headclutcher shots was covered by the influential Press Gazette. Here’s my article for them….. A campaign to revolutionise coverage of mental health issues is gathering pace as forces unite against the ‘head clutcher’ stock photo to illustrate fifty shades of mental anguish. Plucked from an image bank, they are the last resort when no other photographs are available or the people involved in the story decline to be pictured. But these images offend, stigmatise and stereotype, underscoring a general impression that mental health is something that leaves a person isolated and their head in a tightening vice. If every picture tells a story, these depict a remote landscape devoid of hope and understanding. The models usually look physically fit, are dressed in smart catalogue clothing with neatly cut hair that’s just been given a ruffle before they are told to ‘get into character’ by placing fingertips to temples or hands to the back of the head in almost an airline safety brace position – they’re called headclutchers for good reason. One in four of us will experience mental health problems in our lives and many more will be touched by it through families and friends. As a journalist regularly covering mental health stories, I’ve become aware of the distress and outrage these images generate. Mental health service users, relatives and experts are dismayed and feel they detract from public understanding. This is not just a print thing. Head clutchers can be found across all media with mainstream online and TV outlets, such as the BBC, regularly using them. The UK media’s approach to mental health has improved dramatically in recent years and we have emerged from the dark days when “bonkers” and “loony” were acceptable headline content. This editorial evolution is to the industry’s credit. But the head clutcher remains a hangover from a different age, a dead weight holding back progress. Don’t just take my word for it: The leading charities Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and service users agree. Martin Townsend, editor of the Sunday Express, has just taken the lead by pledging to stop using head clutcher shots (declaration: I write most of my mental health coverage for the Sunday Express). The obvious problem with any mental condition is that it rarely has a physical sign – plaster casts, bandages and crutches aren’t issued with diagnoses. Psychological bruising doesn’t colour the skin. So, the big question from picture desks juggling the daily meteorite storm of image requests is: “If not a head clutcher then how can we illustrate a story about mental health?” The answer is a new set of images that help portray mental health with a more positive profile. Skilled photographers should be able to produce a fresh gallery with a range of photographs that do more to capture mental health problems and their solutions. It’s not about shirking issues or neutering coverage – it’s about eradicating damaging stereotypes. But this is not just the responsibility of editors and picture desks. The mental health community has a role to play in being more willing to be photographed for editorial. Fears about public reaction and job prospects are obvious and it may be that we have not reached a societal tipping point where it has become acceptable to discuss mental health openly. Although the Government’s bold pledge to have No Health Without Mental Health may be a bit creaky, there is a definite mood swing. A lot of firms have employment structures that deal with mental health issues on a par with the physical problems that keep people off work. British journalism has been under unprecedented and unwarranted attack recently and although banning headclutcher images may not do much to quell the zealots, it is a perfect opportunity to display the compassion that underpins the trade. Cleansing the image banks of headclutchers may take time and a lot of goodwill but it is a responsible step to take and entirely in keeping with the progressive nature of journalism. Danny Buckland is a freelance journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror. He writes regularly about mental health issues and general health across national titles and websites and has become increasingly concerned about the use of ‘headclutcher’ images in print, on TV and on the web. He is part of a campaigning group that includes mental health charities, service users and other journalists who want to find a better way to illustrate stories about mental health.


Headclutchers head for the bin!

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

Congratulations and kudos to the Sunday Express and editor Martin Townsend for being the first British newspaper to pledge not to use the abominable headclutcher images.

The cliche stock photographs of a man or woman – normally from the middle-aged, middle-class fashion modelling clique – to illustrate depression and other mental health conditions by pressing hands to head and grimacing is pathetic and needs to be made history.

These outdated images reinforce stereotypes cause offence, endorse stigma and are from an age when mental health was regarded as something akin to sorcery.

For media outlets to still be using these library images is scarcely believable. There has been a lot of progress in editorial approach to mental health but the fossilised convenience of whistling up a headclutcher is unacceptable.

I don’t want to deny any actor or model precious work but, really, should you be posing for these photo shoots? I’m guessing they are tacked onto an afternoon of stock imagery work ranging from ‘missing the bus’ to ‘having a cold’ when the photographic team discover they have 30 minutes studio time left and say: ‘Why don’t we finish with a couple of headclutchers – they always get used….ok guys everyone into position….Lucy, just tilt you’re head a bit further forward and really press your temples….that’s it, that’s proper anxiety….Mike, ruffle your hair a bit more and drop the stoicism, we’re not doing ‘waiting at the opticians anymore’…that’s it add a bit of gel for maximum crumpled look and, voila, its bipolar…could even double as paranoia…good session guys, its a wrap.’

Outdated, out of order and, hopefully soon, out of the door.

The Sunday Express – declaration, I write for them – has been crusading for mental health for almost three years years, a rare sustained campaign to make society better.

Editor Martin Townsend and his team are committed to changing the mental health landscape and the decision to stop using headcluthers is typically bold. I hope others follow suit.

Time to Change – –  plus a range of organisations and campaigners are meeting to find alternative images – sorry Lucy & Mike – to make it easier for picture desks. But this is a landmark step so lets welcome it and work hard to eradicate headclutchers!

Bigger than Russia

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

burger-plush-earmuffsWhat has more than twice the population of Russia and an annual spend roughly the same of commercial giants Wal-Mart’s revenue?

Not your average quiz question but the answer is far from standard. It is global diabetes – currently at 371 million people and a annual bill of $465 billion. And those distressing figures are relentlessly on the up and by 2030, there will be another 552 million on the list.

The UK figure is 3.8 million with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes with a projection to rise to 5 million by 2025

This is a landscape of opportunity for pharma but no amount of science and innovation seems able to stem the tide. Janssen have high hopes for their once-a-day pill Invokana which, as Jo Willey, Health Editor of the Daily Express, reports ( will soon be available on the NHS.

But as fast pharma twirls its test tubes to come up with therapies, waist bands keep expanding. The trouble is that a huge portion of the public has now come to look on medicine as a way out of any ill. Get fat/drunk/pregnant/tired/old – there’s a pill. Successive health campaigns seem to land on people wearing burger buns for ear-muffs so we have to try as hard, if not harder, to cook up the psychological alchemy to help people eat sensibly and move a bit more.

Great then that Jane Griffiths, Janssen’s EMEA Group Company Chair, hit a balanced note at the excellent eyeforpharma conference in Barcelona. ( After a powerful and refreshing opening address about the need for trust and innovation in pharma, she told me that personal responsibility was an vital part of the health equation.

“We have to educate people on how to look after themselves a bit better – easier said than done – encouraging people to eat better and take more exercise,” she said. “Our job is to bring health to as many people as possible. Personally I need to lose a bit of weight and I know how difficult that is so I’m no different from anyone else in society.

“We need to look after ourselves and the answer cannot just be medicines, it has to be the whole thing.  I spoke about the concept of  Around The Pill this morning and that is take your medication but try to lose weight, try to get fitter. Medicines can’t be the answer to everything.”

She added that she had high hopes that Janssen’s new innovation centres and the deals it was signing with exciting biotech companies would bring in new science in the fight for better global health.

Anyone need a hand??

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


The latest advance in prosthetics shows us both the marvels of medical science and how close we are coming to a tipping point where replacement body parts will become a cosmetic extra; a bit like botox. If you are worried about crows’  feet, sagging skin and  feel injections of botulinum toxin could do the trick and you can afford it then you are likely to pay for it.

Is it such a stretch to imagine that if you’re hand has a bit of arthritis and there’s a bionic hand on the market and you can afford it that you might pay for it?

With most medical advances comes a moral dilemma. Botox was principally used to treat muscle spasms around the eye and only got elevated to the beauty industry when a Canadian husband a wife eye specialists noticed that patients kept volunteering for more injections even though their condition had been cured.

Dennis Sorenson, who lost his left hand in a firework accident nine years ago, can now feel objects for the first time thanks to the Life Hand 2 that was fitted in the Gemelli Hospital Rome on January 26. Electrodes embedded in his arm carry signals from sensors in the prosthetic hand  to the 36-year-old Dane’s brain and will revolutionise his life.

Not only does it feel good, but it looks good. And it would be quite easy to imagine the ‘Want One Of Those’ brigade muscling in on the technology to enhance and prolong their lives. This, like other incredible step changes in medical science, could become almost a fashion choice at some stage. Far-fetched? Maybe, but does anyone really believe that there aren’t people with the money to do this?

Touch Bionics ( is marketing the i-limb ultra which has the staggering capability of a varied grip so the hand can clutch onto a heavy bag as well as perform delicate manoeuvres such as tie-ing a shoelace. It is the result of amazing talent, dedication and investment and the company is not alone in promising better, more responsive models in the future. All this will mean that people whose lives have been devastated by injury and illness can be helped.

But if technology can rebuild body parts and recreate basic human instincts to promise a better life, the output could easily and quickly jump from clinical need to cosmetic desire. In 10/20 years time, we could be meeting octogenarians with wrinkle-free faces and an iron hand shakes.



Monster Apps

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


Monster Manor 4

Statistics can often appear surprising but meaningless in isolation but put a few together and trends start to emerge.
Here’s a fascinating pairing – almost every other child in the UK has a mobile phone; almost 44 million healthcare apps were downloaded last year.
Let’s extend it. More than 50,000 nursing jobs have been lost or are under threat since 2010 plus the NHS is making £20 billion worth of savings over the next two years.
So, we have a deep hole of healthcare provision and a booming tech market ready to fill it. Another stat? OK then – a report revealed that revenues for healthcare apps increased from $718 million to $1.2 billion between 2011 and 2012.
iTunes has around 40,000 health apps although the vast majority are lifestyle-centric, advising us what to eat, drink, how many steps to take, where to hike and what to wear (and where to buy them) while doing so.
But there is an emerging market of targeted applications medic view as being crucial to the future of healthcare
One of the latest apps is Monster Manor by Ayogo that uses mobile gaming to encourage kids with Type 1 diabetes to check their blood glucose levels. It looks fun, effective and the essence of where tech can bridge the gap between medicine’s clunky delivery and childhood attention deficit.
The colourful, appealing graphics de-stress the monitoring process and could make it second nature for children to stay on top of a task that helps them avoid complications as they grow. Perfect.
But with the explosive growth of apps comes the question of oversight. Who prescribes them, who checks them, where’s the long term research?
The short answer is there is no official regulatory body. Not always a bad thing but as a parent or adult you may want some assurance that an app is actually good for you.
Verification agencies exist but the tech sector may need to combine to find some form of kite mark – without establishing the dead hand of a quango – to make selection easy.
Mobile connectivity is proven to help check blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar levels and as capabilities increase so will the benefit to the individual and the NHS. If we can move the worried well who clog up GP surgeries on-line for simple self-diagnoses then huge swathes of time and resources can be freed up.
The cash-strapped NHS views apps as nothing short of revolutionary. And, although private creativity will always outstrip ponderous official progress, it needs to make sure it can keep pace with developments so the creativity of developers is harnessed.
Something like Monster Manor, and loads of others, are prime examples of technology meeting a clear need and going beyond by adapting behaviour.
With the number of young children who have iPads propped up in front of them rather than books, it is clear a future generation of switched on healthcare consumers is ready to roll.
App creativity offers one of the brightest lights in a depressingly bleak landscape of dwindling resources and healthcare provision. The real equation is matching that pioneering excitement with clinical need, efficacy and safety.

Shiny stuff and red tape

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

The pace of innovation is electrifying; the pace of change stultifying. I’ve long thought that the main barrier to revolutionising heath care is not man’s (or woman’s) ability to challenge preconceptions and devise new devices but our inability to reshape the clunky governance that acts like a drag anchor on change. The recent MedCity Converge – tagged with loved-up When Harry Met Sally poignancy as  ‘Where Healthcare Meets Innovation’ – emphasised a speed date made in heaven. The two are so well suited it defies belief.

Romantic glee and where-have-you-been-all-my-life wonder washed over proceedings but a few observers could spot the rocks – the meet-the-parents moment that can derail even the most perfect union. The parents, in this case, are the bureaucracies that dictate who spends what, when and the suitability…innovation will only win the hand of healthcare when it has proved it came from a good background, went to the right school and has the kind of prospects that are hard to define. Healthcare parents can be tough…even tougher than De Niro.

Chris Seper, @chrisseper MedCity Media CEO and kind of matchmaker, can see the problems … as innovation is frustrated by red tape. Cultures have to change and fast if we are to reap the benefits as a huge part of the world deals with ageing populations. The financial models will be tricky and beset with ethical and sustainability issues but they are little compared to the job of getting overweight healthcare administration fit enough to cope. One delegate, I believe, coined the apt phrase ‘like turning a battleship’ and it is clear a lot of innovative thought will have to go into getting innovation to the people who need it.

Recent research has suggested that robotic animals could improve the quality of life for people with dementia. Artificial intelligence software and tactile sensors providing the emotional responses that can enhance lives. Pioneering work form Professor Glenda Cook at Northumbria University was built on by a trial run by Griffith University, Australia, and the results showed clear benefit.

Care homes can’t really have scores of dogs roaming around but pre-programmed robotic dogs? Why not?! Companion robots might sound a bit scary but they are just one of a myriad of creative ideas that need nurturing.It is a perfect example of creativity and innovation meeting a desperate human need.

But, if healthcare administrators insist on being stern-faced parents then everyone will lose out. The big question is….who is helping healthcare change? We need to devote some time, energy and resource to helping them learn to love their future family. Everyone wants to see a marriage between innovation and healthcare and a wedding reception blessed by a glowing father-of-the-bride speech that runs something like “When I first met Innovation I wasn’t sure but now……”

Trials of the century

Posted: May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

imagesClinical trials have Biblical time frames for a reason – as with everything in medicine ‘Do No Harm’ is the base camp of all research…spending a fortune only to fall short of Everest’s summit is stomach-grindingly disappointing but you fight another day. Taking a header from 27,000 feet because you’ve raced to the peak is infinitely worse. Fatal, is the word.

Big pharma, watching is blockbuster drugs fade, is talking up the need to shorten the trials process in some instances so that they can get treatments to market quicker to help patients and, ahem, get a return on investment.

It is a logical extension of their deft moves to acquire bio-pharma firms who have already done research in key and novel disease areas so the gap between outlay and return is narrowed. Pfizer is now collaborating with 21 US hospitals to identify cell surface research projects with promising futures.

Makes good business sense but the danger is that an accelerated investment return metric could begin to dominate research so rather than scientists pursuing a disease area that badly needs a new treatment they could be diverted to something that promises a swift return. Would orphan disease fit neatly into a ‘smash and grab’ future?

With money running out everywhere, this nuance could skew medical research and, combined with government reluctance to spend, spend, spend on new drugs, the impact will be felt at the sharp end rather than just on the progress charts pinned to marketing department walls.

As we roll inexorably into the personalised medicine era, science and medicine faces the prospect of money dominating even more than ever. How and where research is conducted needs to be an urgent global discussion!

A streamlined trials system should be chased and pharma companies should be allowed to use existing data to give their plans useful go-forward but we abandon clinical trials at our peril. Ben Goldacre mounted a hugely important and successful campaign to secure increased transparency around trials data – will he may now have to turn his investigative/campaigning prowessl to protecting the core of the system?

The crucial element here is that any changes have to be done in clear sight and that any bureaucracy that slows down drug development is shredded quickly so that patients – and pharma companies – don’t have to wait a second longer than they need to get relief.

The financial models of health are changing by the second and the NHS research mandate – one of the few shining parts of the Health & Social Care Act – should be given every chance to succeed.