The 'end of austerity' brings challenges and opportunities for public sector comms

The election result, and commitments from the Prime Minister, present a fresh set of opportunities and challenges for the public sector.

Professionalism, matched with service, sets the public sector apart, argues Simon Enright
Professionalism, matched with service, sets the public sector apart, argues Simon Enright

A big win for Boris Johnson means Brexit will now get done. But he didn’t just win on a promise of leaving Europe; the Prime Minister committed to end 'austerity' with increased investment in the NHS, education, police and the justice system.

This backing from Number 10 creates five clear opportunities and challenges for those of us working in public sector communications.

First, we are all going to be recruiting a lot more people. In the NHS we will need to find 50,000 more nurses, 20,000 more people to work in doctors' surgeries and 6,000 GPs.

That means a compelling retention campaign as well as continued targeted marketing to persuade switchers and school-leavers to sign up for a nursing degree.

Our second priority is a premium on excellent internal communications: the type that listens much more than it broadcasts. For 2020, the NHS will be focusing on a campaign to make the NHS the "best place to work". We will succeed only if we can find better ways to hear what will improve the workplace then let them know when change has happened.

And what are those priorities for staff?

One that has rocketed up the agenda over the past few years is climate change. As the public sector, we will need to make our contribution, so get your green campaign ready.

Fourth, we will need to explain how improvements will be sequenced. It takes time to train new staff and build new facilities and hospitals.

Simon Enright is a keynote speaker at this year's PharmaComms conference in February

So while it is right we talk of quick wins that come from investment, we need to be realistic with our communities about what we can achieve and by when. We also need to continue to communicate how we spend the money wisely and cut out waste where possible.

Finally, after a bruising few years battling over Brexit, surely it is our job to bring people back together.

The latest Ipsos MORI polling has nurses, doctors, teachers and civil servants as the most trusted professions, more likely to be believed than journalists and (sorry Campaign magazine) advertising executives. With trust in the public sector so high, our staff are ideally placed to bring people together.

This year the NHS will celebrate the Year of the Nurse and Midwife to mark the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale. Famed for her devotion to the Crimean War injured, less well-known is that her mastery of maths saved many more lives. She used statistical analysis to prove that unsanitary conditions in the Crimea were killing more men than died on the battlefield. The result: a radical rethink of medical care.

It is this professionalism, matched with service, that sets the public sector apart – whether it’s the binmen of Birmingham, the nurses of Norwich, the police officers of Peterborough or the medics in Manchester.

That is why we should use 2020 to celebrate our people – something the public can all agree on.

Simon Enright is director of communications at NHS England and NHS Improvement

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