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A day with NHS communications professionals

A day with NHS communications professionals

I had the pleasure yesterday of learning. I’ll not share here the mind blowing anecdotes shared by colleagues at the hotel bar last night / this morning, but will instead reflect on what I learnt from attending the Association of Healthcare Communications & Marketing (AHCM) forum at the Leeds City Hilton yesterday.

The AHCM is a volunteer-led organisation comprised in the main of communications managers and directors who come together to champion best practice and raise the profile of the professional within the NHS.

First speaker up was Drew Benvie, managing director of Battenhall. A true pioneer of social media; Ben had the uncanny knack of making the majority of us in the audience feel out of touch with the latest in communications, in particular the tools of choice amongst by young people.

His presentation had us all downloading apps and/or writing down web addresses, whilst for me in particular it reinforced our approach taken to working with young people in the co-design of the sexual exploitation awareness campaign; Not in our community and the appreciation that we still have far to go.

 

award winning

 

Up next was Anna Quigley, Research Director of Ipsos MORI whose insight into the way we think and act was as frightening as it was impressive. Amongst the interesting points raised were the discrepancies between perception and reality on issues such as NHS spending and support for smoking bans vs. opposition to governmental control. She also explored the desire people have for community based services whilst an expectation to maintain the capacity of centralised/hospital-based care; after all it’s human nature to want more and nothing be taken away?

Jane Held, whose multifarious roles included archaeologist, vicar and chair of two safeguarding children boards told us straight that the “genie was out of the bottle” when it came to child sexual exploitation and that it was “more prevalent than we ever thought it was”, a disturbing fact that is increasingly apparent through current campaign work at eskimosoup.

Jane reminded us about the people behind the cases, that safeguarding children shouldn’t be a game of blame bingo when things go wrong and that it is our responsibility to use positives by telling the stories we want to tell as well as the ones we have to.

Nick Samuels was more than adept in asking us to consider our choices in the run-up to May’s general election as organisations, individuals and decisions find themselves under extra scrutiny. His observations covered the vital role health has within politics and the way the Conservatives and the Labour Party would play to their collective strengths whilst knowing when and when not to wheel out messrs Cameron and Milliband.

His advice though was well considered and practical; remember than in tough times you are on your own; stick to the facts, don’t be a hero, act very fast, communicate internally and externally in balance, be sure of who you can trust and understand everyone’s motives.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England reminded us that whilst the NHS is improving more of the same is not viable. He told the room that whilst innovative communications can be effective, that attention to detail on routine and simple things, such as patient letters, ought to have the care and attention one might expect in the private sector.

He was joined by the very determined Rachel, a young employee of the NHS who made the point that in order to effectively communicate with young people we should do it in “their way”. As an audience member it was a shame that we weren’t able to get into identifying solutions as well as challenges at this juncture.

Finally, Simon Enright, Director of Communications at NHS England “followed the boss” with a presentation that explored how we talk with the public about change within the NHS. The point I believe was that it is best to tell stories about why services are changing for the better, for you.

There followed some interesting debate about crisis management, in particular the recent news about Nottinghamshire’s “dirty dentist”. It was interesting to have communications managers with experience of handling big news stories in the room to discuss the perspective that whilst a media storm might cause reputational damage, whilst it can be effective way of spreading crucial awareness and all responses should be handled whilst thinking about the patient to a greater degree than other stakeholders.

 

In summary, whilst I’m not directly employed by the NHS this issues matter to me and to the work eskimosoup does in this sector. Well done AHCM; I look forward to next year’s event.

Thanks.

John Gilbert