Talking • Point

by Sarah Pinch

Sarah blogs about topics relevant to leadership, public relations and communications. If you'd like to write a guest blog, please get in touch.

NHS communication: value for money

30th May 2013 < Back

For the last five years I was Head of Communications for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, an organisation of more than 8,000 members of staff and a budget of over £500 million pounds a year.  During the last year, I was chair of the Foundation Trust Communications Network. During that time, my work was dominated by ensuring patients, their families and friends, understood when they should come to hospital and what services we offered.  I managed my team, with just over £400,000 of the overall hospital budget.

My role was to “ lead the communications function for the Trust, maintaining excellent proactive and reactive media relations and staff communications through the smooth and effective running of the communications team.  And to work closely with Board members and other key committees to advise on policy formulation and the handling of key decisions.”
I write this in my own right – as a member of the CIPR board and the founder of my own consultancy, Pinch Point Communications.
In my five years, I was not involved in fluffy campaigns, but life changing and life saving work.  Organ Donation, working with Dr Jacqueline Cornish to highlight her internationally acclaimed work on non-relative bone marrow donors, with Professor Andrew Dick on his internationally award winning work on eye health and eye surgery, chairing the Bristol Health Partners communications group helping the board to engage the population of Bristol in the future policies of healthcare through TEDMED Live in Bristol this April.
And I spent time working with staff, ensuring that they felt passionate about the whole hospitals’ work – with nine sites if we stood any chance of saving the 6% we needed to,  that is £30 million a year, all staff had to work across wards, team, hospitals to come up with transformational ways of working and delivering savings.
I was hugely proud to launch our staff awards, funded by Above & Beyond the hospitals’ official charity, where we honoured a nurse who had established an acute oncology service, keeping patients with complications in their chemo or radiography treatment out of hospital, with the right access to the right treatment, which is saving the NHS thousands of pounds day.  We also honoured our IT team who had brought in a brand new IT system across the whole nine hospitals, without one thing going wrong, or one patient record lost;  a system that was massively cheaper than the national system.  Fluffy?  Not a bit of it.
The Trust I worked for went through a very painful independent inquiry, quite rightly and there will be more.  My role and that now of my successor is to ensure that the NHS is open and honest – always.  And places itself at the centre of the life of the community it serves, that means speaking to journalists, locally, regionally, nationally, internationally;  liaising with MPs, Councils, our two Universities in Bristol, the police, the ambulance services, the social services that support our patients when they go home.
Who would you like to do this, a senior nurse, who could actually be seeing patients, the award winning consultants I mention, or are quite literally saving lives and sight; or the communications professionals?  I rest my case.
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1 thought on “NHS communication: value for money”

  1. Sean Trainor says:

    Welcome to the world of blogging Sarah!
    Your point about who should take responsibility for the soft stuff is well made.
    Our local police force is currently getting flack on the back of an advert for the role of a communications director. The criticism is that spending £75k at a time when the front line force is being downsized and there’s a higher degree of community unrest is outrageous. I agree, a job of that responsibility should pay at least double that wage!
    The irony of this protest at a time when there is a greater demand for internal communications and local community engagement isn’t lost on me.
    I often say the soft stuff is the hard stuff – some of our work may be relatively intangible but it doesn’t make it insignificant. As your case illustrates – Fluffy? my a*s#!

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