NHS SPECIAL: The variety of responsibilities handled by PROs in the NHS is diverse

The changes in April will affect the way they work as the current 95 Health Authorities become 28 Strategic Health Authorities. PRWeek talked to three NHS practitioners working at different levels in the NHS and in different regions about how they carry out their work.

JANE MEGGITT, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS, ADDENBROOKE'S NHS TRUST, CAMBRIDGE

No. of staff: Six

Responsibilities: 'Gone are the days when a hospital communications manager just answers press calls and writes the staff newsletter. These days the remit is far wider.

'Mine is a busy and exciting job. I'm head of communications at one of the largest hospitals in the country and I have principal responsibility for internal, external, strategic and corporate communications.

'Much of my job is about reputation management - ensuring that Trust issues are effectively communicated and the profile of Addenbrooke's and the NHS is raised in a positive manner.

'The NHS Plan sets out a ten-year vision for the health service in which patients always come first and front-line staff are given more responsibility for delivering care. Communications is central to driving this process and I'm currently developing a patient and public involvement strategy to take forward the NHS Plan initiatives.

'External communications is high up my agenda. I produce a hospital newspaper, have an award-winning website, run regular open days and public events, and make good use of our local media. It's important to talk-up our successes - don't just do it, tell everyone you've done it.

'Over the past year or so, we've had a major drive on improving internal communications. We now do far more face-to-face briefings and give staff more opportunity to have their say.

'Health secretary Alan Milburn recently launched our new staff online information site, which gives staff latest news and archive information on Addenbrooke's and national NHS issues.

'The communications team at Addenbrooke's is funded from a variety of sources. I use a blend of full-time, short-term contracts, and freelances.'

RACHEL CHAPMAN, HEAD OF PUBLIC INFORMATION, NEWCASTLE AND NORTH TYNESIDE HEALTH AUTHORITY

No. of staff: One admin assistant, regular support from freelance PR consultants and agencies for specific initiatives. I have a working relationship with a senior comms professional at the Tyne and Wear Health Action Zone, who now spends the equivalent of two days a week working with me.

Responsibilities: 'To provide internal and external comms advice and support to the board. Apart from the usual day-to-day business, this involves planning a major public information exercise for the closure of an accident and emergency department and planning and implementing several public consultations on changes to community and mental health services.

'Since the middle of last year I have worked closely with our chief executive who has been project manager for the establishment of a new strategic health authority for the whole of Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. This will replace four existing health authorities.

'I work closely with colleagues across the district and in our neighbouring health authorities, providing advice on the handling of difficult issues and also encouraging joint working. It is now routine for several health authorities to pool resources for high-profile public health campaigns to encourage people to stop smoking, to help reduce teenage pregnancies, to raise awareness of avoiding heart disease and to encourage uptake of the flu vaccination.'

ANDREW PARTINGTON, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, EAST SUSSEX, BRIGHTON & HOVE HEALTH AUTHORITY

No. of staff: Five (three PR managers, graphic designer, admin support)

Responsibilities: 'Formerly based at a Health Authority, we will from 1 April provide PR support to five NHS Primary Care Trusts: strategic planning, reputation management, implementation of PR projects, 24/7 media and crisis PR cover, patient and public information (including web-based information), joint PR campaigns across the NHS and social services in the area, liaison with other tiers of the NHS and in-house graphic design.

'This is a wide-ranging remit, reflecting the new recognition of good communications at every level of the NHS. We cannot fully deliver all this ourselves.

'We are working with Primary Care Trust senior staff to enable them to take ownership of the comms agenda, to acquire some necessary skills and to know when to call on us for professional support.

'Our greatest challenge: keeping the PR antennae tuned in and not being swamped by the day-to-day detail.'

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