Chair’s blog: 5 thoughts from the NHS comms leads network

“We’ve been running a marathon for the past 2 years and now as we approach the end, we’re asking people to sprint.”

I heard a clinician use this analogy last week and it feels like a good way of summing up where we are now.

There was no sign of the calm after the storm as the first face to face network for two years met amid thunder storms in London last week.

While there has been plenty of virtual activity between national colleagues during the pandemic it was fantastic to see people back together in a room for discussions and debates about how provider communications can support the NHS as we move into another phase.

The aim of the day was not only to reflect and reconnect, but also identify the challenges and hot topics of the coming months.

Some of the key things that felt important to me:

#1 Performance

NHS performance is suffering at the moment, exacerbated by long years of covid, growing demand and ongoing workforce issues. A&E attendances are now even higher than before the pandemic climbing to 2.03 million, ambulance standards are struggling and the backlog of care is well publicised. 

This will come under real scrutiny as the government and public look to value for money linked to the NI rise and growing cost of living. Things could get worse before they better.

#2 From clap to slap

The NHS has been the main story on nightly news bulletins and on the front pages for more than two years. People clapped in the streets for the NHS but now the agenda has moved on.

The problems around accessing care and the headlines around NHS performance are starting to erode confidence and damage public perception. The national public perception measure is at a 25-year low.

The current workforce pressures must be a huge concern. Burnout, stress, recruitment and retention will be major issues for the NHS in the short, medium and long term. Sadly,there’s still no public plan to tackle this.

How we support and recognise staff will be a significant challenge for communications teams across the country.

#3 Green NHS

This has really moved up the agenda with 78% of trust bosses saying it was a top priority. There’s a real system-wide agenda to improve this and comms must play a big role.

#4 collaboration

It’s clear that some of the joint working and togetherness forged during the pandemic have cooled somewhat, but Sally North East’s session on ‘clever collabs’ offered some practical advice on embracing system working.

It’s clear that this will be a key theme and as communicators we need to get comfortable working very closely with partners, place and region as the new ICS comes on stream. 

This is the new buzzword across the care system but could be the real future of targeted public heath prevention. Jonathan Pearson-Studdart demonstrated some real insights based on data analysis that are being trailed in the North East. This is a hugely exciting area of work with a big comms impact.

#5 Health Inequalities

Thank you to all the members who came along and contributed to such a lively and insightful discussion.

Finally, a massive thanks to Adam, Duncan, Jordan, Caroline and everyone at the NHS Providers team for arranging such a useful session.

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