This is the question I asked myself when I was preparing my presentation for the GCS and LGcomms Showcase event on the NHS England Stay Well This Winter campaign.
I spent some time looking back on the experience of working on our winter campaign and there were two lessons that I thought stood out: the importance of understanding the communications challenge; and the value of partnership working.
Winter is a challenging period for the NHS, and, when NHS England and my team were formed in 2013, delivering a campaign to help reduce winter pressures on A&E Departments was our highest priority.
Beware “we’ve always done it that way”!
The prevailing thinking at this time was that winter pressures on hospitals were caused by increases in the number of people turning up at A&E departments. The communications response to this had been to run campaigns that aimed to educate the public about the range of alternative services available to them depending on the seriousness of their illness or injury.
Rather than continue with this approach, we worked with NHS England’s Urgent and Emergency Care Review Team to analyse the data behind winter pressures to develop our campaign strategy.
Our analysis highlighted that rather than an increase in the number of people attending A&E departments, it was actually an increase in the number of people being admitted into hospital via A&E that was the cause of winter pressures. The increase in admissions meant the capacity within hospitals being taken up and if the onward flow stops, new patients cannot be admitted.
There are of course many reasons for someone needing an emergency admission to hospital, cardiac arrest and stroke to name two, but most of these are not seasonal. Our analysis showed that each winter the number of people admitted for respiratory illnesses greatly increased. The analysis also identified those groups that are most likely to be admitted for a respiratory illness; the elderly; the very young; and those with long term conditions, such as kidney disease, that effect their immune system.
This detailed analysis of the causes of winter pressures and the challenge that our campaign had to help address was key to us developing an effective strategy. It was this work that I wanted to highlight in my presentation to emphasise the importance of understanding the issue and identifying the role of communications and your objectives.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
The importance of partnership working cannot be overstated. The Stay Well This Winter campaign was created through a partnership between NHS England and Public Health England.
In 2015 we joined with Public Health England to bring together our separate winter campaigns under a single unifying campaign brand. We had found that our work, though focused on different actions and targeting different audiences, shared the same strategic aim of helping to reduce pressure on NHS services. We brought together our winter pressures campaign, which at the time was called ‘Feeling Under The Weather’ and their flu vaccination and ‘Keep Warm, Keep Well’ campaigns and launched the Stay Well This Winter campaign.
This has proven the idiom ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ as the single campaign brand has been more effective than the separate campaigns it replaced. We have been successfully running the campaign with PHE since then.
It is clearly not possible to find partners that will work with us to jointly fund and deliver all our campaigns, but I firmly believe that all campaigns can benefit from partnership working.
I hopefully conveyed this in my presentation and encouraged the audience to identify those organisations that have channels that reach their target audiences or intermediaries and build relationships with them to gain their support in communicating their messages.
There are of course many things that go into making a great campaign and each stage of the OASIS model needs considerable attention, but I only had 20 minutes to present.
Learn more about Stay Well This Winter