Healthcare: Warning on comms around NHS reforms

The Government faces a 'stormy' period in its bid to gain public support for the NHS reforms despite the controversial bill being cleared by the Commons, healthcare comms experts have warned.

The Government's communication of the planned NHS shake-up has been heavily criticised in the past and was described by the NHS Confederation as 'adding to the risks of failure'.

Last week, following the Government's 'listening exercise', the Health and Social Care Bill cleared the Commons and will now be considered by the House of Lords.

However, heading into the party conference season, MHP Health's MD Mike Birtwistle said there was 'scope for mishap before the year is out'.

'The coalition party conferences could be stormy affairs on NHS reform - the public is still not fully engaged in the reform process and is bored of technical debates about issues which are far removed from day-to-day care,' he said.

Birtwistle added that the winter months posed a real threat to the Government if perceived cuts combined with flu and bad weather created a situation 'where patients feel the impact first hand of worsening NHS performance'.

'The reforms need to be insulated from - and not contaminated by - normal winter pressures,' he said. 'Andrew Lansley will need to show how the reforms are beginning to have a practical and positive impact on patient care.'

Fishburn Hedges' head of healthcare, Ayesha Bharmal, agreed the Government faced key comms challenges in the coming months: 'The coalition needs to be much more conscious of how rhetoric around the bill is being heard and understood by the public.'

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