'Complex life of the NHS communicator' examined by EuroComm delegate

The NHS is under unprecedented scrutiny and its crises are played out in the media, putting its comms professionals under extreme pressure, according to a delegate at this year's EuroComm 2017 conference.

The NHS is under unprecedented scrutiny, Tim Hart told delegates at EuroComm 2017
The NHS is under unprecedented scrutiny, Tim Hart told delegates at EuroComm 2017
Tim Hart, assistant director of communications at NEL Healthcare Consulting (NEL CSU), the NHS's own internal comms agency, looked at the key challenges facing NHS communicators during his presentation.

At the event, Hart reminded NHS communicators that they too were public servants whose job it was to help make life better for patients and families. 

He said that some people working in NHS comms were themselves former clinicians who had spent their entire life in the profession who saw comms as a career and not just a job.

But Hart warned that the NHS, the largest employer in Europe with some 1.6m employees, was under unprecedented scrutiny. 

Frequent crises were constantly played out in the press over issues ranging from staffing, funding and performance, all while there were regular mandates to cut costs. 

Hart said NHS comms had a wide audience - from the public and patients to staff, union members and politicians - as well as the media.

The work, he said, also had a very broad remit – engaging in public affairs, internal comms and crisis comms, as well as dealing with media relations. 

There was also a requirement for smaller, niche sectors to be staffed, such as science comms and legal consultations.

To add to the complexity, Mr Hart said there was also a constant need to adapt when governments’ change or shifted their priorities, as well as an ever-changing news environment.

In addition, he looked at challenges around communicating ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ (STP’s) with their ‘triple challenge’ of offering better healthcare and transforming care delivery, all at sustainable costs, and said the changes could potentially be resisted by the public who would also expect consultations.

But to deal with these new and ever-changing complexities, comms teams would have more digital offerings at their disposal and develop new ways of working.

Hart warned more change was to come in the future and that there would be even smaller budgets to work with, with a greater demand on comms to deliver work through digital and mobile platforms. 

He finished by listing what he thought the hot and emerging stories would be, with Brexit, mental health and an ageing population among the challenges to come.  

Speaking to PRWeek, Hart said: "For communicators who work in the NHS it is a place of constant change, an often pressured environment that requires a steely will and an ability to pivot from issue to issue and from skill to skill to keep it all in hand."

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