Responding to criticism, DH’s head of news Tim Jones told PRWeek: ‘Of course we want taxpayers’ money to be spent wisely in the NHS. But a very large proportion of NHS communicators are not "spin doctors" by any definition. They run patient information programmes, manage public consultations and manage web information on accessing services.’
Jones added: ‘There is a huge public and patient information programme in the NHS – because it is obviously a huge public service, and one in which there is an increasing focus on transparency and information.’
The comments were in response to a BBC London investigation last week that revealed the NHS had spent almost £13m on PR in the past three years – enough money to recruit 600 nurses, according to the report.
BBC London sent Freedom of Information requests to all 33 hospitals in London, to NHS London and to all the capital’s Primary Care Trusts. The results showed £9.7m was spent on press officers’ salaries and £3m on private PR companies. It also found a total of 82 press officers on the public payroll with an average salary of £37,278.
While critics questioned the NHS’ use of external PR agencies to help with reputation management, advice on handling news stories and consumer engagement work, both the CIPR and the PRCA have defended the practice.
CIPR chief executive Jane Wilson claimed that PR campaigns ‘aim to save time and money spent on public health issues that can be prevented at source by raising awareness’.
‘In doing so, they make a contribution towards the £20bn of efficiency savings the NHS has been asked to find by 2015,’ she added.