NHS and local authority chief executives everywhere are caught on the horns of dilemma.
On the one hand austerity has meant swingeing cuts with communications considered a soft option.
But on the other hand, those very same austerity measures are putting such pressure on other services as to be causing a reputation crisis which communications is expected to bail out.
How then does a troubled chief executive resolve this dilemma?
Put simply, they need to get more for less from their communications service. An impossible task? I don’t think so.
Here at On The Level PR (OTLpr) we’ve been pioneering a new way of working with one of the country’s best NHS organisations, East London NHS Foundation Trust.
Admittedly it’s not a Trust on the proverbial naughty step – it was Trust of the Year in 2016 and one of only a couple of handfuls to be rated outstanding by their regulator, the Care Quality Commission.
But it still has its challenges and is keen that it does not rest on its hard-earned laurels because as its chief executive Navina Evans (2nd most influential according to the NHS health magazine, the HSJ) says: ‘It might not feel that way to someone whose loved one has taken their own life whilst in our care.’
So how can you get more for potentially less? First of all the more comes through investing in staff development which has been woefully absent for years. The mantra ‘you’re only as good as your team’ rings very true for OTLpr. And that team needs to be at the forefront of the latest thinking and technology in public sector communications, not just from the UK but around the world.
Secondly being an external provider means we have to be even more responsive to clients through monitoring. Some of the payment is performance-related which means there’s no hiding place.
We’re also funded to provide a number of high profile campaigns every year to support the Trust’s strategic priorities which means they’ve had to think and plan what they want to do rather than being too reactive.
Some of the money-saving comes further down the line as other clients come on board and economies of scale can be made. We are also moving towards a bonus-payment model based on individual performance. NHS and local authority staff also carry large on costs. We found that many staff on lower pay scales cannot afford NHS and local authority pension contributions and will be offering new staff a more affordable option.
Finally, the NHS insists that anything you need to purchase from third party suppliers, such as printing and design, should come from its procurement framework. The trouble is this is set up for clinical purposes and not communications. Therefore the quality, choice and prices are variable and not always competitive.
So the communications conundrum can be solved. But it will take brave decisions by NHS and local authority leaders. The million dollar question for them is: ‘Why have their communications service in-house when there is a better way?’