The comms pro – who previously spent more than 11 years working at Transport for London – told PRWeek that his new role is broad and challenging. It combines "providing leadership to a communications team recognised for handling crisis and digital communications exceptionally well", as well as being "the custodian of the organisation’s strategy and vision".
"We’ve got over 5,000 staff, the bulk of whom work on the frontline, so internal comms need to be tailored to a workforce that’s constantly on the move," explained O’Hara, who joined LAS on 27 November.
"I will be developing a new approach to relationship management with the stakeholder engagement team, which is critical to getting support for where we want to be in the future."
O’Hara’s role is a combination of two posts; he took over from Charlotte Gawne, who was director of communications, and Karen Broughton, who was director of transformation and strategy.
Gawne has become director of communications at NHS organisation the SW London Alliance.
One of the key challenges for O’Hara in the coming months will be helping to raise the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust from special measures, after it was rated "inadequate" by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following an inspection in 2015.
The CQC has since raised its ranking, and indicated that it expects the ambulance service to come out of special measures in the coming months.
"We’re an organisation in special measures, there’s no point hiding behind that," said O’Hara. "Oddly enough, that was the main reason why I took the job – because I like a challenge and getting stuff fixed.
"Working alongside the board to get out of special measures is my priority in the coming months.
"Comms is integral part of this through building confidence by explaining, both to staff and the outside world, that we’re changing and that we can be trusted to deliver."
O'Hara will also be on the hunt for a new head of media and campaigns, after Anna Macarthur announced she will be moving to NHS England in January.
Growing demand, high expectations
Having spent more than a decade at TfL, in roles including chief adviser, head of government relations and chief public affairs officer, O’Hara is no stranger to working in a complex organisation faced with growing demand and high expectations of service.
"London is constantly changing and its population will rise by nearly two million in 20 years’ time," pointed out O’Hara.
"That poses a huge challenge for the London Ambulance Service – and all public-sector bodies – in how it responds to that growth. There’s also the immediate winter pressures in the NHS too, and this year promises to be extremely challenging.
"We’ve just started our comms campaign to urge Londoners to use NHS 111, instead of 999, if they have non-urgent healthcare needs."
He told PRWeek he was excited about meeting frontline staff in the organisation.
"They are heroes and have handled the major incidents they’ve been involved in this year with real empathy and professionalism," said O’Hara.
"I’m spending the night with an ambulance crew in central London just before Christmas which will be an eye-opener.
"I’m incredibly proud to be here. We’ve got an ambition to be a world-class ambulance service for a world-class city, and from what I’ve seen so far, I know we’ll achieve that."
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