Senior leaders unveil a blueprint for the future of NHS comms

A major programme by NHS comms directors, with input from experts at Henley Business School, is being undertaken to overhaul the way comms is conducted and evaluated in the NHS, PRWeek can reveal.

Steering committee (clockwise, from top left): Richard Mountford; Liz Davies; Shak Rafiq; Kerry Beadling-Barron; Julie Clayton; Ranjeet Kaile; and Alison Brown
Steering committee (clockwise, from top left): Richard Mountford; Liz Davies; Shak Rafiq; Kerry Beadling-Barron; Julie Clayton; Ranjeet Kaile; and Alison Brown

It is an attempt to increase the professionalism of NHS communications and elevate the function’s profile at senior levels.

The move has been prompted by mounting concerns over the status of comms in the NHS.

Second class

A report by NHS Providers on the state of comms in 2018 warned: "Communications is not universally regarded as a strategic function and is considered by some senior communicators to have a ‘second-class’ status compared to other board-level positions."

The report revealed that just 44 per cent of comms leaders reported to the chief executive and stressed the need to show the "strategic value and impact of what senior communicators and their teams do".

In response to the problem, a steering group of senior health comms figures, working with NHS Providers, has developed a two-year programme of work focused on demonstrating the strategic value of comms.

Over the next 24 months, the group will work to create a competency framework and career ladder, and improve equality and diversity.

Leading the way

Ranjeet Kaile, director of comms at South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, is leading the work on demonstrating the strategic value of comms.

He told PRWeek: "Day in and day out, the work of excellent communications teams across the country is helping to save lives and improve health outcomes [for] millions of people. What we know is that we need to do more as a profession to be able to consistently demonstrate the strategic value of communications."

Kaile added: "We are still at an early stage and this work is only really possible because of the passionate people involved, who are giving their time to be part of this programme because they know it will have a real impact on what we do and the patients we serve."

His Trust has spent more than a year working with Henley Business School to develop a 360° comms dashboard, which is now being used to inform the board of the Trust’s reputation among its key stakeholders.

It triangulates data from patient, staff, and community surveys to build a picture of what people are saying about the organisation and helps to identify the steps to take to maintain and develop its reputation.

This dashboard represents a model that could be used by other comms teams across the NHS to report back at board level, and will be presented to Trusts across the country in the coming months.

"At operational level we will seek to develop the NHS communications evaluation framework so that the NHS can be consistent in how it measures the work taking place," Kaile said.

An NHS comms evaluation council will be established next year to "oversee the application of these two elements" as well as "creating a best-practice communications guide that can disseminate learning across the country", he added.

Collaborative approach

Representatives from several NHS Trusts and clinical commissioning groups, as well as NHS England and NHS Improvement, are involved in the work, which they are carrying out in their own time.

Alongside Kaile, the following individuals are in the group overseeing the work: Kerry Beadling-Barron, director of comms and engagement, Nottinghamshire ICP; Alison Brown, head of comms and engagement development, NHS England and NHS Improvement; Julie Clayton, head of comms and engagement, North Cumbria CCG; Liz Davies, head of comms, South Tyneside & City Hospitals Sunderland NHS FT; Richard Mountford, deputy director of comms, West London Mental Health NHS Trust; and Shak Rafiq, comms manager, NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group.

An outline of the programme, which began last month, was recently presented to members of the NHS Providers comms leads network.

Adam Brimelow, director of comms at NHS Providers, commented: "The plans discussed at our recent network event offer a compelling blueprint for the future of our profession. We will continue to work together to build the case for a place for communications professionals at the top table of all NHS organisations."

And Professor Kevin Money, co-director of Henley Business School’s John Madejski Centre for Reputation, said: "Henley Business School is excited to partner with the NHS on this important project. The strategic value of communications in the NHS means preventing diseases, saving lives and improving performance. This project will allow us to establish a consistent methodology for making the link between comms and improved outcomes."

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