NHS trusts prepare for criticism

Hospitals Healthcare Commission warns PR teams it will publish several reports over course of next week.

Hospital trust PR teams across the country are bracing themselves for a barrage of damning reports in the aftermath of recent controversy around Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Following the Healthcare Commission (HC)'s recent report on Mid Staffordshire's high death rates, more reputations are expected to be hit as the body publishes reports before it closes down next week.

Speaking on 24 March, HC director of comms Miranda Kavanagh said: 'We have a few publications coming out over this week and one or two next week.' She advised trusts in the firing line to have clear messages and a management team who are prepared to be spokespeople.

Other hospitals have also been the subject of damning reports in the past week. They include Birmingham Children's Hospital, which faces 'serious potential risks', and Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals Trust, which was found to have inadequate training in basic life support.

Kavanagh argued the potential harm to the NHS' reputation by issuing so many negative reports at once was less important than the potential harm of badly run hospitals.

Commentators have widely criticised Mid Staffordshire's PR response, despite the HC tipping off the trust that the story was coming and explaining the likely level of interest from the media.

Mid Staffordshire's two-strong comms team is led by Helen Perren, aided by adjacent NHS trusts and various members of the hospital marketing team.

Grayling UK chairman Vivien Hepworth - a former NHS trust chairman - called Stafford's initial response 'inadequate'.

'It was right to put the chief executive up, but where were the doctors? The public responds to doctors and nurses, and doctors would most reassure public on standards of care,' said Hepworth.

InHealth Communications founder Julian Tyndale-Biscoe said the trust's apology to family members was not good enough: 'The apology was swift in coming but it came from the newly instated chief executive, who wasn't culpable. In the eyes of the public and grieving families this may have seem paltry recognition.'

Michael Bland Communication Consultancy founder Michael Bland said: 'There's no quick fix and no short answer. They could make an ongoing story of what they are going to do - like a weekly bulletin.'

The Healthcare Commission will be replaced by the Care Quality Commission on 1 April.

HOW I SEE IT - Jonathan Street, Founder, JSPR

The Healthcare Commission report did not come out of the blue and the trust must have seen it pre-publication. It should have been ready with a detailed media response and people to put up for interview as the story broke.

The story was bad - probably the worst report the commission has produced. But the trust should have said what has happened since the inquiry began and how things have changed. It could invite local journalists and TV crews into the hospital to see for themselves, and put senior doctors up for interview.

The trust now has weeks or months of hard work to do to rebuild confidence.

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