Healthcare: At a glance - PCTs merge comms functions

What's this about?

Forthcoming mergers of the 303 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) that control local healthcare in England are likely to mean cutbacks in comms functions. And a report by the NHS Alliance, which represents PCTs and those who work in them, has said that the restructure could result in across-the-board dissatisfaction.

What's the present set-up?

PCTs, which account for 75 per cent of the NHS's budget, were formed in 2002 under the Government's Shifting the Balance of Power initiative. But it now wants to restructure yet again, as part of its commitment to devolve decision-making to frontline staff.

Does the Department of Health oversee PCT comms?

No. Individual PCTs are responsible for their own communications and tend to work with directors of comms at the 28 Strategic Health Authorities - which, in turn, performance-manage the PCTs. Around a fifth of PCTs share management teams, and others combine functions such as HR, finance and, of course, comms.

So the DoH has no involvement at all?

DoH PROs will contextualise local stories for journalists, explaining how best practice in one area is an illustration of national policy issues, for example. The DoH NHS press team also issues press release templates and maintains an intranet that can be accessed by PCT employees. But a DoH spokesman admits: 'The quality of comms (in PCTs) is patchy, partly because of resources and partly because they are new organisations.'

And there are comms challenges ahead?

Even without this restructure, the sheer variety of PCT stakeholders presents a challenge in terms of message and medium. Communicating with patients, public, staff and other organisations - rather than traditional media relations - is a huge part of their role. Indeed, PRWeek called several PCT comms departments but none were able to respond - perhaps resourcing is already an issue.

- Further information

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