Insight from ‘the other side’.
19 December 2012.
I like a challenge, as you may know. “It’s about time I built some more NHS experience”, I thought to myself, as I rashly applied for a Lay Member role on the board of the new Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group and signed up to attend the Association of Healthcare Communications and Marketing (AHCM) conference. It felt a little like straying into new territory where I would be shackled to the stocks and stoned for being a ‘pharma’ person who dared transfer to the other side.
You know what, it’s been a refreshing experience. At the AHCM conference, I met some fantastic people who are working extremely hard to make a difference to their NHS Trusts by navigating a spaghetti of communication messages and priorities. A consistent challenge that I heard was the recognition that communications have evolved; and while traditional methods are now often outdated, use of online and social media is not yet a complete solution. Ironically, the increased armoury of communications channels does not necessarily make it easier to communicate with NHS stakeholders: it is harder with limited time and resources to fully understand and utilise all of them, and there is no easy solution to meet variety of different healthcare communications needs among today’s population. We heard that the older population are the most supportive of the NHS and there is a need to engage better with younger generations and manage expectations of what the NHS offers. I felt there is a danger that NHS communicators feel obliged to throw themselves into adopting Twitter, online forums and digital channels, yet they recognise that this would not meet the needs of the majority of regular hospital or healthcare users. It would be easy to say that a strategic exercise needs to be undertaken to align communication priorities with the demographics of the population they are aimed for. This would, however, enable better ongoing engagement with all members of society. The challenge is – who can allocate the time and expertise to take this step back to do this, even though ultimately it would focus resource and deliver better engagement? That question wasn’t answered there.
In the process of reviewing the CCG Lay Member role, I have gained much better understanding about local healthcare service provision, as well as the NHS strategy moving forward. There is no easy solution – that we all know – but it does appear that there is tremendous energy and vision amongst CCGs to evolve the process of NHS service provision moving forward. NHS Oldham CCG is the first to be approved in Greater Manchester, and only one of 35 across England. The team there are progressive in aligning the needs of their local population with the provision of services, and are already demonstrating benefit. Local provision of kidney dialysis and a new maternity unit are already agreed, both of which directly correlate to identified local needs. This insight is greatly rewarding to see after so much time spent working with the pharmaceutical industry, where even with the best intentions and most collaborative of patient programmes, there is always a sense of being one-step-removed.
I hope that 2013 will provide me with the opportunity to build on these insights and even start to contribute tangibly myself through my work. Keep your fingers crossed and watch this space.
Meanwhile, I wish you a restful and merry Christmas (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and very happy, peaceful new year.