It’s a fact of life that whenever some sectors invest in communications it sets parts of the media off on one. This post promotes the importance of NHS communicators communicating, and explains why managing your identity is absolutely a part of our role.
by Jack Adlam
I hate to be the one to break it to you readers, but the NHS is no longer prioritising patient care.
That’s right - thanks to a faceless cabal of ‘identity managers’ NHS priorities have gone ‘completely wayward’ and we are now too busy choosing which colour to paint the walls than to care for Aunt Doris.
I am, of course, exaggerating - although only slightly.
Recent media coverage following the release of updated NHS identity guidelines created the predictable furore about wasteful NHS managers and a dusting off of the generic ‘publicly-funded comms people are bad’ statement from the Taxpayer’s Alliance.
The Daily Mail also gave its readers a bit of context, helpfully listing the problems the NHS is battling, such as cancelled operations, overflowing wards and increased demand, as if these issues were somehow caused solely by NHS ‘identity managers’.
It is not my intention in this blog to defend the need for updated brand guidelines in the NHS. James Turner has already beaten me to it …and has done an excellent job I might add.
This blog is intended to focus on a broader point.
The headlines we saw last week are nothing new. They are the same stories that lambast ‘NHS spin doctors who do nothing to deliver frontline patient care’ and therefore presumably should be sent away to some remote island, thus allowing hundreds of doctors and nurses to come flooding into the NHS. Hooray, the NHS is saved!
The reason that media stories like these resonate with people and create so much debate is because the public do not understand what it is we do and the value that we add.
It is the case that rather ironically, we are useless at our own PR. We have an identity crisis.
At a time when the NHS needs good communicators more than ever we find ourselves an easy target for the public’s scorn and to be honest, I don’t blame them.
Given the limited facts and sensational headlines from the media and others I too would be angry about the thought of my taxes being wasted on so called ‘non jobs’.
But this, as we know, is complete nonsense. It does not reflect the realities of what we do, from ensuring that staff are engaged and up to date, showcasing success and innovation, responding to media enquiries, keeping stakeholders and partners informed, finding new and innovative ways to communicate and engage with people…and much more.
I have worked in the NHS for seven years and not once have I had a doctor or nurse (or any healthcare professional for that matter) tell me that the work I do is a ‘non job’. They value what we do because they have seen the positive difference we can make to the work they do. Take for example this comment from one of our clinical managers:
You are seriously amazing. I used to dread hearing our name in the press, now it is always a good news story. I think it makes a huge difference to the morale of staff.
I have no doubt that comments such as this are commonplace across the NHS, yet they are rarely shared.
Things are starting to move in the right direction and we are getting better at telling the public why what we do is important. Colleagues such as Rory Hegarty and Amanda Nash have both written about the realities of working in the world of NHS comms and this is a great start.
But the truth is we need to do more, not just in the NHS but across the public sector.
We all know the positive contribution that we as NHS communicators make (yes, even to patient care) and we all know that our job has nothing to do with spin. While we must always ensure value for money the fact that public sector communicators are funded by the taxpayer doesn’t make them any less important, and if we can’t convince people of that then we truly are in the wrong business.
Jack Adlam is Deputy Head of Communications at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust
image via Navy Medicine