Communications profession making strides towards acceptance as a strategic function but more progress needed
25 January 2018
A report by NHS Providers shows that the NHS communications profession has more progress to make until it truly has a seat at the top table in the running of NHS trusts.
The State of NHS Provider Communications 2017/18 provides a snapshot of trust communications through benchmarking data, interviews with communications leaders and thought leadership on future practice.
The centrepiece is a survey of 130 communications leaders working in hospital, mental health, community and ambulance service trusts. More than half (56%) of NHS trusts in England took part in the survey.
The survey found that:
- Less than half (44%) of communications leaders report into their chief executive, while only 24% sit on their trust’s board (of which only two per cent are full voting members)
- Despite this, most communications leaders feel they have a good working relationship with their chief executive and two thirds feel they have parity with other senior staff
- Well over a third (38%) are worried or very worried that they do not have the right capacity, skill mix and resources in place to provide effective communications for their trust
- Trust communicators recognise the increasing need to work more closely with communicators in other NHS organisations and local authorities, particularly if the communications and engagement challenge presented by sustainability and transformation partnerships are to be met. However, the report found that eight in 10 trust communicators are spending less than one day per week on STP-related communications activities.
The report outlines the innovative work that NHS communicators are leading on a daily basis – whether that is by delivering high profile campaigns that lead to desired behaviour change, leading public engagement strategies as part of initiatives to transform the way care is delivered, or providing high quality information to patients.
However, as with other NHS staff, it reveals a highly pressured and over-worked profession, with fewer staff, too many demands and not enough opportunities for professional development.
The report author, Daniel Reynolds who is director of communications at NHS Providers, said:
“Good communications sits at the heart of how the NHS engages with its patients, communities and staff. The leadership and expertise provided by communicators has a vital role to play in improving the patient experience.
Our survey showcases the best of NHS communications but also the progress that is needed if the communications profession is to be elevated into the strategic function we aspire it to be.
"Our survey showcases the best of NHS communications but also the progress that is needed if the communications profession is to be elevated into the strategic function we aspire it to be.
"Chief among these challenges is showing more clearly the impact communications has on the patient experience, using evaluation tools to demonstrate return on investment, and working more effectively with local government communicators to engage with the public around the complex changes to local services that are needed."
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Trusts working together on a more informal basis to share communications capacity and expertise in order to plug skills and capacity gaps and to deliver better outcomes.
- Trust communications leaders and their local government counterparts to work together to ensure effective engagement with the public, staff and other stakeholders ahead of the much-needd changes to local services that will flow out from sustainability and transformation partnerships.
- For a clear career structure and development pathway for NHS communicators at all levels to be developed.
The report can be found here.
PR Week has written an analysis piece on the report, which is available here.
A blog from Daniel Reynolds is available here.