Throughout the pandemic, healthcare communicators and engagement specialists have implemented new and innovative ways to serve communities across the country. It’s time to recognise their achievements and celebrate the innovation of the COVID-19 period and beyond, write Daniel Reynolds, Adam Brimelow and John Underwood.
The NHS has demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face of coronavirus and what has been an unprecedented period in the history of the health service.
Staff working across different teams and boundaries have united towards a common goal to not only prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, but also to transform services in ways that will leave a legacy for patients.
Professional communicators and engagement specialists have played their part in the COVID-19 response. Having been plunged into great uncertainty like their colleagues, communicators have adapted by providing rapid information to the public, staff and local communities, often in new and innovative ways. Like others, they have had to change the way they work overnight, making greater use of new technologies and tools in the process.
And they have been in greater demand for strategic advice. Research published last year by the Centre for Health Communications Research (CHCR), NHS Providers and NHS Confederation found that during the early stages of the pandemic there was a greater appreciation of professional communications within NHS organisations and an enhanced recognition of communications as a strategic function.
We believe the health communications profession will emerge from the pandemic in a strengthened position as a result. And we also know the events of the last year will change communications practice for years to come, if not irrevocably.
Showcasing the very best of the profession
It is with this in mind that the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers and the CHCR have joined forces to launch a conference for health and care communications leaders, alongside a new awards event that will recognise the achievements of communicators and celebrate innovation.
We are passionate about the strategic contribution that health communicators and engagement specialists make and want to celebrate the success of the profession.
There is no better time to do this than on the back of such a tumultuous year. COVID-19 has both inspired and stretched communicators to their limits. There are some aspects of pandemic working that will be left behind, but many of the changes we have seen to communications practices will be hardwired into the future.
Our conference and awards – called NHS Communicate 2021 – will capture this learning and showcase the very best of the profession over two inspiring days in September. Senior communicators from across the health and care system and beyond will judge the awards – the categories of which are set out on the events page.
We want this to be the most open awards opportunity for health communicators, with individuals and teams at all levels encouraged to enter. With that in mind, we are making the awards free to enter and there are no associated costs with attending the awards ceremony.
Addressing the strategic challenges ahead
While we will celebrate success and share best practice through our awards, we will also debate some of the critical challenges facing the profession with the help of communications leaders from inside and outside the sector. As communications leaders, our NHS Communicate 2021 conference will be the place to join the conversation.
We will be asking:
- How we build on the effective partnership working that has been a feature of the last year to continue to break down boundaries between communicators working across the health and care system and beyond.
- How we hardwire use of data, digital and other tools to improve our insight into patients and local communities to improve patient outcomes.
- How we safeguard the reputation of the NHS with an exhausted workforce facing a mounting backlog of care that will see some patients waiting longer for treatment.
- How we engage as effectively as possible with our staff given the known links between a well-engaged staff and patient outcomes.
- How we improve diversity in all its forms in the profession, including tackling why there are so few BME staff at the top of the communications profession.
- How we better support our communications leaders and their teams and protect their health and wellbeing.
- And, finally, how we strike the right balance between central control and local autonomy when it comes to empowering health communicators and their teams.
The answers to these questions will help shape the future of the profession and, if successful, we will look to build on this in 2022 and beyond.
Daniel Reynolds is director of communications and membership operations at the NHS Confederation (@DanielReynolds4). Adam Brimelow is director of communications at NHS Providers (@adambrimelow). John Underwood is director of the Centre for Health Communications Research (@JUHealthComms).