Amid intense media scrutiny of the service, the role of PR has been ratcheted up, said a senior figure at the NHS.
Steve Gladwin is director of comms for the Trust Development Authority (TDA), which was created in April as part of NHS reforms and oversees efforts to drive up standards in hospitals and a range of health services.
Following a wide-ranging consultation, the TDA is developing best-practice tips. These will be sent to 100 hospital trusts that it has been tasked with helping improve.
Gladwin said that during the reforms there had been a ‘loss of focus’ across the service.
Recent media coverage has also concentrated on February’s Francis Report, which exposed massive flaws at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and was followed by NHS chief Sir David Nicholson announcing his decision to step down.
‘The NHS is under the spotlight,’ added Gladwin. ‘The Francis Report said we needed to listen to patient concerns far more, and if the public hasn’t got confidence in the NHS, then the NHS itself begins to suffer.
‘This major piece of work we are doing is to make sure comms has much more of a voice at the top table, to help stop that happening.’
Though the guidance is still being developed, it is set to be distributed this summer. It will include tips on explaining changes in service and how to engage with patients.
It is likely to reflect ‘a shift of focus’ from media to stakeholder engagement. The TDA is also examining the PR output of trusts applying for foundation status, which is a key platform of the Conservatives’ health policy.
‘Trusts must make sure they are showing in concrete terms through metrics how they are managing and measuring reputation,’ said Gladwin.