Respite and recovery comms

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent so nobody can ever know what you are capable of – not even you”

In the 1st Century Roman philosopher Seneca mused on the nature of adversity and in the past 14 months we’ve seen plenty of that.

At the start of the latest NHS Providers network session we talked more prosaically of working life as the almost empty tube of toothpaste from which we try to squeeze a bit more, then a little more and finally even more.

The fact it was the busiest virtual session we have ever run spoke to the fact that so much is going on as well as the need for renewed connection.

Some key themes emerged for NHS communicators including innovation, adopting new practice learned during the crisis, how we work in a coordinated way across the system and most importantly the resilience and wellbeing of staff.

A huge thank you to all the speakers (namechecked at the end) and the NHS Providers team for putting on another excellent virtual event. Briefly, here’s what I took away from it:

Getting the balance right

There’s so much going on at the moment, with so much to catch up on, there’s a risk that the NHS tries to do everything and in doing so achieves little.

Not just operationally but also in the way we communicate we’re juggling lots of priorities while still trying to see off the immediate threat of Covid19.

The rest of the vaccine programme, beating the backlog, service recovery, supporting staff, introducing new ways of working and focusing on collaboration are all on the agenda and need serious attention. Does this risk trying to do too much, too soon?


This has been the number one concern for most trusts and comms teams continue to play a vital role in supporting the health and wellbeing of an exhausted NHS workforce. (Northumbria chief executive Sir James Mackey blogs about this on the NHS Providers website this week)

We must not forget ourselves in this either. Many comms professionals have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure staff, partners and the public are all well informed.

This is clearly taking its toll. It’s also exacerbated by daily, back to back virtual meetings on Teams or Zoom.

Leaders must take the time to reflect and reset while we are all being urged to find the time or space to switch off.

New ways of working

It’s important that we learn some of the lessons of the past year that have helped us all work more flexibly, with less red tape and in a much more coordinated way with local partners.

The way the Integrated Care Systems are developed in the coming months must reflect this in our communications.

Flexibility and innovation

The panel speakers talked about how the pandemic in some ways had changed corporate attitudes to things like risk, home working, innovation and internal communications.

It has certainly elevated the importance and respect for communicating well with audiences, while proving the value of good communications.

The greater flexibility and trust in staff to work remotely also meant that organisations needed the ability to formally communicate with staff wherever they were. This led to a host of new tools and approaches right across the NHS.

Value of comms

At the start of the pandemic there was no vaccine so good communications was one of the only weapons in the public health arsenal.

The new director of NHSE/I talked about the importance of these vital messages and outlined how the public sector as a whole now really understands the value of good comms.

The UK vaccine programme – with such low rates or hesitancy – is testament to this.

The battle for brevity

This is one I bang on about constantly so it was great to hear the panel highlight the value of simplicity. Covid has taught us to respect first principles and reflect on the importance of brevity and being concise if we want our messages to cut through.

There’s something really joyous about simplicity in an increasingly complex world and I’m reminded about the possibly apocryphal Einstein quote that says “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Regular members of the congregation can refer back to my D Day musings click here

Finally and most importantly, a huge thank you to everyone working in the NHS right now……..keep going everyone.

With thanks to speakers:

Adam Brimelow
Justine McGuinness
Chris Rolfe
James Lyons
Lee Griffith
Sally Northeast.

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