Will Jeremy Hunt improve NHS reform comms?

Communications and lack there of has be a consistent problem during the last two years of NHS reform. The Department of Health hasn’t been able to find a lead spokesperson to outline in easy to understand language the huge challenge of changing the way the NHS operates. And there has been a lack of understanding from all parts of government and the NHS (bar the NHS Confederation in the last few months, in my opinion) of the need to take time to build up the case for change with the public, NHS staff and the media.

Andrew Lansley’s approach to the reforms helped propagate these issues, so will Jeremy Hunt help reverse some of the communication problems?

The consensus seems to be that Hunt as the better, smoother communicator is able to reverse the comms problems but has no understanding of the thing he is now trying to communicate. As Paul Corrigan rather politically put it on his blog:

The appointment of the new secretary of state for health is a move away from someone who had a single idea about a policy to reform the NHS but could not communicate it (Andrew Lansley), to one that has no idea about NHS policy but communicates that very well – Jeremy Hunt.”

His implementation record during the Olympics and Paralympics is being flagged as proof of his abilities. Let us not forget however with the NHS we’re talking about the largest employer in Europe with 1 million+ staff spread over 400+ organisations all holding onto their slice of roughly £105bn of funding as the turbulent seas of reform buffet them from job matching to redundancy to opportunity and back again. Two, two week sporting events pale in comparison; as do the number of acronyms.

Olympic and Paralympic acronyms NHS acronyms
ORN, PRN, LOCOG CCG, CSU, PCT, HEE, PHE, AHSN, FT, QuOF, QIPP and on and on…

Digitally speaking Hunt has a Twitter account, something Lansley wisely opted out off, and has just witnessed digital comms at its most persuasive and pervasive during the Olympics; the first social games. Will this help him see the full suite of digital communucations as one way of the DH and NHS leadership building trust with NHS staff and the public? Hopefully so.

However, if the government wants health to quieten down then I doubt digital will get the step up I’d like it to.

As a stab in the dark, if I was in his position I would go with something along the lines of:

“We’ve all be dumped with this set of reforms. We must now enact the law. I want to work with you all to ensure we make these reforms as good for patients and the general public as possible.

I will take the next four weeks to understand my brief in depth and hear your thoughts on how we can get the best of these reforms. Please write to me or leave a comment at [link].”

Perhaps that is a naive view of political life, but I know that would resonate with my NHS colleagues more so that any of Lansley’s communications ever did.

Hunt has two years or less to implement the reforms before the election. He can either do it with or without communications. But only one of them has the potential to deliver a committed and supported change for the good of our nation’s health.

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