Communicating excellence could help save the NHS

The government’s new communications plan has a focus on public health, prevention and reducing NHS demand. But is something missing? Matthew D’Arcy asks the question.

Keeping people well and avoiding costly episodes of care will be essential if NHS England’s Five Year Forward View is to be realised. So it should come as little surprise that a new government wide communications strategy released this week considers aspects of public health, prevention and reducing demand, when it comes to its focus on health.

It is true: effective communication can be very important in encouraging people to stay healthy, to take flu vaccines and to become involved in their care.

But is there something bigger that communications teams can do to really make a difference to health and care services at a time when the sustainability and the very survivability of the NHS is being fought for?

Lord Rose, who released his review of NHS leadership only days before the new communications plan from the Cabinet Office, would certainly appear to think so. In his 68 page review, Lord Rose makes the very clear point that before any of his recommendations can be considered, a single service-wide NHS communication strategy is needed to cascade good (and sometimes less good) news and best practice to NHS staff, trusts and clinical commissioning groups.

His pre-condition is simple, yet crucial. Communicators have a vital role to play in helping services across health and care to join-up and learn from each other.

How many pockets of fantastic innovation and excellence in care remain in the confines of individual wards or surgeries? And just how many brilliant ideas, if spread across the NHS, could save many lives, reduce the need for operations and admissions, prevent illnesses and enable people to live better for longer?

Communication must not only focus outwardly to patients and public health prevention initiatives, but also work inwardly within the NHS, so that ideas and ground-breaking approaches can penetrate departmental, organisational and care boundaries.

“The NHS needs a collective vision,” says Lord Rose. “A federation as large and plural as the NHS cannot afford to be disjointed. It must think collectively and act locally. The NHS is full of very good people, but it must do more to communicate and share good practice, celebrate success and foster a united ethos. There should be a concentrated effort to create a communications strategy in order to do this. Focusing on the positives within the NHS will bring up and drive out the negatives. A collective effort depends on a collective understanding.”

NHS organisations and the people within them do wonderful things every day. Making sure these achievements are scaled and realised in the most impactful way requires as many people as possible knowing about them.

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