NHS comms professionals must tell ‘positive, but authentic story’

Healthcare communications specialist, Mitchell Gadd, discusses the AHCM annual conference and reviews the public relations challenges facing organisations in the health sector…

The need to tell a positive story through an authentic and credible narrative will be key for healthcare communications and marketing professionals this year if they are to counterbalance the negative publicity the NHS continues to receive.

That’s the message from industry figureheads to communicators in the health sector right now looking to stem the flow of column inches on missed waiting time targets, trust deficits and striking junior doctors.

And it was a message emphasised further at a recent AHCM (Association for Healthcare Communications and Marketing) annual conference.

As a proud member of the AHCM working for multiple NHS clients, Freshwater attended the annual conference in Birmingham, which saw speakers from NHS England, the Trust Development Authority and Care Quality Commission offer their advice to professionals, while attendees also benefitted from a range of talks and workshops outlining best practice across the sector.

Attendees were also inspired by Dr Kate Granger, who told the story of her ‘Hello My Name Is…’ campaign which has captured the hearts and minds of celebrities and politicians alike.

Simon Enright, director of communications for NHS England, spoke of the need to get the tone right on the challenges the NHS faces, while former Trust Development Authority director of communications, Rob Checketts, urged organisations to “stop flicking bogies at each other”. Checketts called for more collaboration between hospitals, trusts, CCGs, Monitor, and others, like that seen in Staffordshire, where organisations have signed up to a ‘comms concordat’.

“It may be tough, but we must tell a positive story – there is plenty of good work going on (in the NHS)”, said Checketts.

Chris Day of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) spoke about how organisations should treat an inspection like “an open book exam”. He stressed that “the best organisations we see are the ones that understand the issues they face,” and urged organisations during an inspection to see the CQC as partners who are there to help. 

But while the positive approach was encouraged, it was PR Week editor-in-chief, Danny Rogers, giving his take on what makes a successful campaign, who stressed the need for an authentic narrative.

“Great campaigns have a clear vision, authenticity and purpose,” he said, while highlighting that the commander-in-chief style approach that worked for Alastair Campbell and New Labour is giving way to a collaborative, partnership approach.

“The definition of a good campaign is an authentic, credible narrative, underpinned by ideas, and told with creative flair.”

Attendees also heard from representatives from Greater Manchester’s Health and Social Care Devolution group, who outlined their experiences in bringing 10 councils and 12 clinical commissioning groups together to deliver a shared communications and engagement strategy for their local populations.

The day also featured talks from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Tower Hamlets Council, while the afternoon session featured workshops on topics such as reconfiguration best practice, and how NHS England’s vanguard initiative can help the NHS deliver new models of care.


Freshwater’s healthcare team has significant experience of working with health and social care organisations and NHS trusts, offering services from integrated communications to crisis management, as well as delivering events and training. 


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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017