'Professional comms has never been more critical to the future of the NHS' says #FuturePRoof report

Comms has never been more "critical to the future of the NHS" as it faces the biggest challenges in its 70-year history, according to the FuturePRoof 3 report.

The NHS at 70: Facing the biggest challenges of its existence
The NHS at 70: Facing the biggest challenges of its existence

Edited by CIPR president Sarah Hall, the latest FuturePRroof report is the third in an annual series examining the importance of PR to the increasingly beleaguered public health organisation, and how the NHS' approach to PR serves as a valuable lesson for the wider public sector community.

The NHS – which is this year celebrating its 70th anniversary – is facing a myriad of challenges, from funding cuts and privatisation to criticism from government ministers and staff negatively impacted by Brexit.

In an introductory editor's analysis, Hall emphasises the challenges faced by the NHS and how its continuing survival depends on a concerted and unrelenting comms approach.

"It needs people to fight for it and as communications professionals we are in a unique position to do that," Hall writes.

"I urge each and every one of you to please step forward and make your voice count. Right now we are in the privileged position of receiving free healthcare at the point of treatment. It would be a shame — and catastrophic for many — to lose that."

Hall starts her editorial by praising the NHS and noting the "huge debt of thanks" it is owed by her and hundreds of thousands of others.

She expands on how the NHS' "hardworking communications professionals", who often go "unrecognised and unsung", are the people behind the scenes who "connect this complex web of organisations together through internal comms, understand and communicate often incredibly difficult messaging around healthcare developments and behavioural change and who regularly save lives through their work on the front line".

The 176-page report contains an array of specialist knowledge, insights, best practice case studies and the views of comms professionals who "reinforce the strategic value of public relations within their organisations".

"While the highly successful NHS campaigns within this book of course involve a creative spark, it’s all about the science," she explains. "Those featured are highly targeted based on planning and data, use integrated communications to reach their audiences and are continually measured, evaluated and evolved to secure the best outcomes possible. We’d do well to emulate this solid approach within wider practice."

Meanwhile, in a foreword, Antony Tiernan, engagement and comms director for NHS 70, at NHS England, writes: "Communications professionals are an important part of the NHS family and play a vital role in telling the story of the NHS to the public, patients and staff. A story where we’re getting healthier, but we’re using the NHS more. A story where the quality of NHS care is demonstrably improving, but we’re becoming far more transparent about care gaps and mistakes. A story where staff numbers are up, but staff are under greater pressure. A story where the public are highly satisfied with the NHS, but concerned for its future."

He acknowledges that the NHS sometimes has a difficult story to tell, but insists that the organisation and its comms team has three "powerful factors on its side": passion and versatility; one of the most recognisable brands, "renowned far beyond our shores"; and staff who "do some of the most amazing things as a day job".

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