Two years in

Two years into a global pandemic and it’s words from 150 years ago that seem to ring most true “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

NHS communicators are still battling away on many of the same high-profile issues with no real sign of respite as we move into 2022.

There’s no need to go over old ground and I blogged previously about the thoughts of #CommsLeads colleagues who got in touch before Christmas to set out some of the major challenges occupying their minds. (read it here)

But as Dry January drew to its seemingly endless conclusion it was great to see such a big turnout for our latest virtual network meeting.

A grateful thank you to Adam, Duncan, Jordan and Caroline for their support organising this session but also to everyone working in NHS communications who have played such a vital role over the past 2 years.

Here are a few of my notes from the day with some key points for us to think about:

#1  “stretched as never before”

The usual policy update highlighted an NHS to do list that seems to be growing by the day which currently includes Omicron, the service backlog, a covid public enquiry, the cost of living impact, infection and isolation of staff, waiting lists, finance, workforce planning, the usual winter pressures and the 2nd highest rate of mental health referrals on record. There isn’t going to be any respite this year. 

#2 Staff morale/ fatigue/motivation/burnout.

Managing wellbeing and mental health seems more important than ever across the whole NHS workforce at the moment and there’s a danger that it starts driving people away. It’s not just front line professions and by no means just the NHS but I’m seeing and hearing increasing mental health issues for comms people right across the public sector.

#3 from clap to slap

There’s a real sense of the changing public mood about the health service for people who aren’t always getting the care they need or having to wait longer for services. This is chipping away at the huge universal support enjoyed by the NHS in the summer.

It also seems to be leading to a rise in something much more sinister….

#4 A troubling rise in abuse

While violence against staff didn’t stop during the pandemic it has certainly got worse in recent months. Speakers at the conference talked about three separate campaigns designed to tackle the huge rise in recent issues which have ranged from verbal abuse and racism to attacks with weapons.

The ambulance service in the North East explained how the first night after lockdown was the worst ever for violence and attacks with weapons have doubled since then. We also heard about the pernicious impact on people and morale this constant abuse can have in hospitals.

It needs to be a key theme for us to tackle head on by explaining that this is not part of the job and can’t be brushed off or normalised. The good news is that we can make a difference and early results from a campaign by Chelsea and Westminster has seen reports of violence fall by 40%.

#5 big issues ahead

If anything, the pitch is probably going to get even more crowded for NHS comms this year with demand growing – we’re no longer facing a single enemy and expectations are rising. Aside from Covid other big-ticket items include ongoing vaccination, behaviour change, green issues, CSR, social care and system transformation.

Big thanks to speakers Ruth Dalton, Mark Cotton and Emer Delaney and in the words or Jerry Springer take care of yourselves……and each other.

Pic: me and dog on our local beach. The sun also rises.

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