Experiencing the NHS front line

Written by Eleanor Willock

This year, we’ve start some really exciting stakeholder relations projects for our clients. It’s made me take action and rip a leaf out of the books of the smart communicators from our chosen field, the public sector, who simply turn to their peers when they want to keep learning and are seeking information to help them make better decisions.

I decided to ensure that every month the Mantis team gets to hear from someone within our industry, who might be experiencing things from a different perspective.

Louise Thompson (LinkedIn here and twitter @MsLouiseT) communications director at Burton Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, was our January visitor. Louise and I used to work together at our first big London agency job. A crisis for us used to be sending out an email press release with the journalists on cc instead of bcc. How things have changed for us both!

Louise gave us a fantastically clear idea of the challenges that she’s faced in her job, most notably their achievements in strategising the communication of the movement of the Trust out of special measures and forward, into a more positive reputation.

Holding onto to any straight-line stakeholder relations plan whilst facing a constant barrage of really testing PR challenges probably seems familiar to any of you reading who are in a comms job. However, the notion of those PR challenges being mostly life and death situations, or issues which provoke startling amounts of public criticism, adds another level of complexity. Good news stories within the NHS are important and most welcomed, but they are not always what the media want. I got the impression that relate-able, strong spokespeople, statistics, and quick reaction times were the glue that holds an NHS comms plan together.

We discussed the complexities of enforcing a social media policy for NHS staff (clue – you can’t always, but a good dose of the BBC’s social media mantra “Don’t be stupid” always helps), the structure of a Trust’s boardroom table and where IT sits at it (more clues – they often don’t) and Louise, whose background is in technology like me, gave us her views on working with vendors, tech pilots in hospitals, and staff attitude to technology and its role in a hospital. It was eye opening stuff.

I came away from our meeting determined to use what we learned to offer strong, informed consultancy to our clients who work with the NHS. There’s perception gaps we can close, more sympathetic routes to building relationships within a Trust we will be suggesting.

I am in awe of the NHS, it is astounding what it achieves on a daily basis given the financial, social and political challenges it faces.  After speaking to Louise I see that what I thought would be one of the hardest jobs in the public sector is made easier by the incredible network of communications staff that exists there. Louise was off to meet up with her entire cohort of peers after speaking to us, and was so energised and excited about seeing them. It made me realise that the NHS’ achievements are because of, not in spite of, the challenges they face.

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