David Holdstock: From a distance - will a national model for health comms improve local comms?

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David Holdstock is Chair of LGcommunications and Head of Corporate Communications Central Services, London Borough of Hillingdon

At a time when public services are working to join up communications at a local level, it seems extraordinary that the Department of Health is developing a new national model to deliver health communications. 

The intention is to replace local teams with a ‘hub and spoke’ model which would support primary care trust clusters, emerging consortia and the NHS Commissioning Board.  Apart from the need for a jargon buster, early experiences of PCT clusters have not necessarily been positive.  True, it’s early days but there is a real need for a more outward facing approach.

As we understand them, the proposals are based on local teams that draw on a 'good understanding of local context'. These would then be supported by a nationwide network of specialist hubs to provide additional back-up in areas such as marketing, digital, engagement, media relations and production – in short, a national network delivering all the communications elements, with the possible exception of internal communications.

These are worrying developments as they would appear to be moving local health service communications further away from local people.  They will also make it harder for collaboration between public sector communicators.    By working together and drawing on their combined skills, public bodies such as police, fire, councils and others have a real opportunity to deliver new approaches to combat some of the social problems that lead to ill-health and anti-social behaviour.

As council communicators, we already know that public health is coming our way – almost certainly with no additional resources.   This is a real opportunity to join up all of this activity to deliver better, more joined-up local communications for our citizens.  It would also use limited resources more effectively.  We need to be open to new approaches.

The Association of Healthcare Communications and Marketing, who we in LGcommunications work very closely with has very sensibly already started a conversation about the proposals , read more here.

The intention is to broaden the debate to include communications colleagues from across the public sector so that together, we can develop a model of high quality, value for money communications that meets the needs of local citizens and delivers real benefits in terms of a healthy population.

Some of the best communications activity that has come across the desks of LGcommunications in the last few years has been delivered locally, in partnership with measurable outcomes that have changed people’s lives.  Let’s hope that we’re not getting further away from that desired outcome.

Posted on 14th July 2011

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