Coming out of special measures is an opportunity to reshape the narrative around London Ambulance Service

I joined London Ambulance Service in April and realised very quickly that there was a really good opportunity to enhance our brand and help grow confidence in our organisation.

The narrative, the LAS brand and political support have all been enhanced by coming out of special measures, writes Pauline O’Brien
The narrative, the LAS brand and political support have all been enhanced by coming out of special measures, writes Pauline O’Brien
We had been in special measures since November 2015. Back then, a critical inspection report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated the service ‘inadequate’. 

Significant work in every corner of the organisation had taken place by the time inspectors returned earlier this year and confidence was high that we could make the big leap to earning a ‘good’ rating. 

At the same time, we had just approved an ambitious five-year strategy containing some bold plans to revolutionise the service. 

Talk of innovation, excellence and an ambitious five-year plan is all well intentioned, but when you’re in special measures it falls on deaf ears. 

What does it mean to the public though? Do they even care about special measures and five-year strategies? I’d say not. 
Not when the CQC had consistently rated the care we give patients as ‘outstanding’, demonstrating that patients have broadly been very happy with the care they get. 

But this was an opportunity to remind Londoners that when they dial 999 or our 111 service, they are in good hands, and to reassure them that the wider NHS and the Government has confidence in us.

When the CQC made its announcement on 23 May that, as hoped, we had an overall ‘good’ rating, we took the opportunity to work with all the London media to ensure that they would report that we’d improved in areas to support our frontline staff but also that we were taking the right steps to continue to improve. 

We received coverage across all the main London media outlets and the health trade press. 

At the same time, our work with political and other stakeholders garnered some great social media support from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt. 

And our staff were thanked for their continuing excellent patient care, which by way of a happy coincidence coincided with our annual event to celebrate long service, public recognition awards, chief executive commendations and diversity awards at the annual London Ambulance Service VIP awards attended by more than 300 people.

On the back of the CQC report, NHS Improvement immediately took the service out of special measures. 
To use an overused noun in our industry, we could now work to a new narrative. 

We were no longer shackled to talk of failure, we were free to talk with confidence about our new five-year strategy because we’d proved to staff, politicians, the media and other external stakeholders that we could be trusted to deliver.

So last week, we worked again with the London media to reveal some of our future plans, and against the backdrop of a positive CQC inspection and exiting special measures, it was reported favourably across the board with some national coverage from the likes of The Daily Telegraph and The Sun thrown in.

What does this mean for patients? 

Londoners have been again reminded that the care they get from us is outstanding. They also know we’re making changes that will affect the service they get from us in the future, but in a positive way.

Confidence in the leadership at London Ambulance Service has grown in the past fortnight. 

Our chief executive and spokesperson Garrett Emmerson, in post for a year, is now well and truly in the public eye, a place that suits him and is appreciated by the media who know they can call on him to account for our performance.  

In terms of politics, we’re not in the business of trying to earn political capital; we are an integral part of the NHS after all. 

But public support from both the Secretary of State for Health and the Mayor of London is really valuable and, furthermore, makes requests for collaboration on future external comms projects far easier to secure.

Just shy of two months into my new role, it feels like a great time to consider what campaigns we should be running in order to meet the business objectives of the service and the wider NHS. 

Crucially, we can start to set the agenda rather than just feature on someone else’s.  

Pauline O’Brien is head of media and campaigns at London Ambulance Service


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