Healthcare PRs echo Lord Rose's call for comms to come first in NHS transformation

PR consultants have welcomed a call for transformation of the NHS' talent and leadership to be led by a new comms strategy - so long as it is co-created, and avoids "reinventing the wheel".

Lord Rose: knows the value of engagement from his M&S days (Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Lord Rose: knows the value of engagement from his M&S days (Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Early in 2014, the Health Secretary asked Conservative peer and former Marks & Spencer boss Lord Rose to review recruitment, talent development and leadership in the NHS.

His review, published this month, makes 19 recommendations including changes to training programmes, performance management, the NHS graduate scheme and cutting back on data and bureaucratic requirements.

The first two recommendations – which the report describes as "pre-conditions that must be met before any of these recommendations can be effected" – relate to comms. They are the formation of "a single service-wide communication strategy within the NHS to cascade and broadcast good (and sometimes less good) news and information as well as best practice to NHS staff, Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups"; and the creation of a handbook or other document summarising NHS core values, which would be published and broadcast across the service.

Gillian Tong, MD of MHP, said: "With true staff engagement, it could be a groundbreaking approach to driving and aligning communication across a uniquely complex and deeply federal organisation."

She went on to say that the comms recommendations had to be two-way, saying: "Critical to the development of this strategy is that it’s built on ‘ask not tell’: Rose has clearly undertaken a lot of 'listening' but any effective development of the two key recommendations will need a strong element of co-creation with NHS staff – all 1.38 million of them – to be successful.

"From his tenure at M&S, Rose knows the value of engagement and the role of a single idea – in that case, Plan A – in delivering this. And a single, embedded vision for the NHS would underpin all of the broader recommendations in the report. "

Bill Morgan, a founding partner of policy and comms firm Incisive Health, was a special adviser in the Department of Health between 2010 and 2012 – during which time the NHS Constitution for England, which set out the principles and values of the NHS in England, was published.

He said: "Many will recognise in the call for a summary of the NHS’ core values the same spirit that led to the creation of the NHS Constitution. Rather than reinventing the wheel, this report should serve as a powerful call for the NHS to redouble its efforts to raise awareness of the NHS Constitution, which has some recognition inside the NHS but precious little outside."

Geoff Potter, co-lead of a new NHS engagement and comms team at Instinctif Partners, said: "We have seen time and time again that successful organisations are underpinned by strong vision, values and culture embedded in their ethos. Lord Rose recognises further change is required in the NHS and highlights what is now so readily recognised in the private sector, effective staff engagement is directly linked with positive outcomes at a time of change."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has accepted all of the report’s recommendations in principle, according to a written ministerial statement submitted to parliament on 16 July, the day the Rose review was published.

"My department will work with the health and care system to develop plans to implement each of the other recommendations to the extent possible, subject to an assessment of proportionality, cost-effectiveness and affordability," Hunt’s statement said, while a Department of Health spokeswoman has since said it was not at this stage possible to go into more detail as to how this would be done, or on what timetable.

Last week, Prime Minister and ex-PR David Cameron urged all civil servants and government departments to make all communication with the public "human, clear, simple, helpful and professional", although this was followed with news a couple of days later that the Government would continue to substantially cut its spending on comms.

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