Public Sector: ... as negative coverage continues

Headlines about Lord Darzi's review of NHS London could barely have been more scathing. 'Hospitals to be axed for NHS Malls,' thundered the Evening Standard in July of last year. 'Super-hospital threatens the future of local services,' was the Daily Mail's similarly hostile offering.

Meanwhile, numerous local newspapers have spent recent months running 'save-our-hospital' campaigns.

Bell Pottinger North associate director Richard Clein, whose clients include Liverpool PCT, said Stephen Webb's job would be a huge challenge. The NHS London restructure will not disappear from the news agenda any time soon and the media are now accustomed to negative stories on the subject.

'If you ask people what they are most concerned about, they will say health, crime and education. The newspapers still have a huge interest in health stories and we know that the way they are written is not always complete reality,' said Clein.

Cohn & Wolfe associate director for healthcare Vicky Kelham said the problem of negative coverage had not been helped by the fact that the NHS's comms have traditionally been lacking.

She said: 'Poor communication is often a part of NHS complaints, and communication between sectors, such as primary and secondary care, is often not optimum or well thought out.'

However, said Kelham, things have improved since Lord Darzi published his report last year. She cited 'a greater inclusion of public opinion through the hosting of public forums and the use of online channels'.

Webb's main challenge will be to successfully address NHS London's diverse target audience, which includes NHS employees and patients. To do this, say the experts, he will need to find a clear message that resonates with both camps.

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