PUBLIC SECT0R: Patient forums body plans pre-launch comms push

The body that will oversee the re-organised network of local patient forums is to crank up communications ahead of its launch later this year.

The Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which replaces England's network of community health councils (CHCs), is to launch a search for its first head of comms and stage a pitch for external agency support.

This comes ahead of a full launch in September and as the commission's 15 members meet for the first time later this month.

It is understood that annual agency fees will be around £150,000 and the PR head will have a direct reporting line to its chair Sharon Grant and CEO Laura McMurtrie.

Since it's launch in a shadow form last October Citigate Communications has been handling PR for the new body on an interim basis since. Agency MD Adrian Roxan said that the final in-house/external PR balance is as yet undecided.

PR work already underway by Citigate includes consultation with doctors, nurses, Government and councils on how to best set up the commission at a local level. Another key PR challenge is encourage those from ethnic minorities and socially excluded groups from joining local groups.

According to the outgoing CHC body Association of Community Health Councils in England and Wales a question mark remains over funding for the new commission. The ACHC estimates that funding is available for just 28 local offices to house around 600 forums.

Also in doubt is the future of 700 staff across the 184 CHCs, who are expected to be made redundant, although some may be relocated across the NHS, according to ACHC comms manager Murray Benham.

Roxan added that a name-change may be on the cards for the new body, conceding that the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health was 'not the most user-friendly title'.

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