The future of the NHS and the overall health and wellbeing of the UK is probably one of the biggest political hot topics around and with a general election looming the #parlhealth event came to Durham in a bid to teach us more about connecting with politicians.
For the first time in history we know the exact date of the next general election (7 May 2015) and this brings its own set of political pressures and interests.
Organised by Daniel Wood of the Parliament’s Outreach Service, the event looked to provide some useful clues for communicators in the health sector looking engage with MPs and Lords.
I’ve blogged about Dan’s previous event (The thick of it – 10 tips for engaging with Parliament) but this one looked more specifically at healthcare and had a high profile guest speaker in Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Daniel explained that Parliament essentially does three things: makes laws, holds the government to account and sets taxes.
Each of these things can have a huge PR impact and even small details can have huge implications for reputation and engagement (the so called ‘pasty tax’ started as a single line on VAT law but caused a huge furore).
Engaging & influencing
Influencing MPs to raise issues in the House of Commons can be extremely powerful, not just because of the purely legislative reasons, but even small debates can have a knock-on effect with the media or in sharpening minds at the top of organisations.
Changes around the Sheffield station train station barriers and issues facing diabetics both recently attracted major attention after being mentioned in questions at the House.
In a more formal sense issues that were debated by committees also had a major impact for health professionals with A&E waiting times and hospital staffing just two issues that saw national rules imposed just two weeks after a report by the Commons Health Committee.
In fact, research shows that around 40% of select committee reports were adopted partially or fully, so it pays to make sure that MPs involved understand and hear your key messages.
MPs more contactable
MP for the City of Durham, Roberta Blackman-Woods said that recent changes to the NHS made the whole system much more difficult to understand, but explained how there are now all party groups looking at almost every medical condition.
“There are so many ways of getting MPs to raise health, wellbeing and care issues. The main driver for us as MPs, is making things better for our constituents so health issues are very important to that picture.”
Six Tips for engaging
#1 You need to be savvy in how you contact specific politicians. This needs to be done in a quality way without spamming hundreds of people using a one-size-fits-all approach.
#2 use social media. It’s immediate, visible and widely used by politicians.
#3 Think very carefully about how your issue will impact on their constituents.
#4 Politics is inherently a short term business so make briefings concise and clear. Be explicit about what YOU want to happen by making contact.
#5 Target people on the relevant parliamentary committees, particularly select committees or people with an interest/expertise around health and wellbeing.
#6 Don’t forget the House of Lords. Members here will often be experts in healthcare and unlike MPS aren’t there to win votes or play to a particular agenda.
In part two see how a former Paralympian is using her knowledge as an expert member of the House of Lords.