Building common purpose: engagement and communications in integrated care systems

Learning on the role engagement and communications play in partnership working and developing thriving integrated care systems.

15 December 2020

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Partnership working has been the hallmark of the health and care response to COVID-19. It has provided a strong foundation to reset the way the NHS, local government and voluntary sector work together and engage with the public, staff and partners to deliver a step change in health and care.

During this period, we have seen the importance of engagement and communications – one of the key enablers of partnership working. As with other areas of health and care, the pandemic has helped to remove divides between communicators working in different organisations. There is now an opportunity to build on this in 2021 with every area of the country set to be part of an integrated care system.

A group of communications leaders, led by the NHS Confederation, has examined local integrated care systems that have been successful in communicating and engaging across local communities, staff and the full range of partners that comprise their systems. This follows research we published earlier this year into the pandemic and how it has changed communications practice.

This report distils the learning and is intended for partnership board members, ICS and STP communications leaders and the full range of communications and engagement professionals across health and care.

It makes clear that engagement and communications play a crucial role in supporting integrated care systems, and the partners that make them up, to achieve stronger relationships, more open and transparent ways of working, greater trust, more engaged staff and, ultimately, better outcomes for the public.

Key points

  • Strong engagement and communications can help to build effective partnerships and enable integrated care systems to achieve their aims of more joined up-care and improved population health.
  • Building Common Purpose shines a light on those local systems that have achieved success in communicating and engaging across the partners that comprise the system, and with their local communities and the full range of health and care professionals. It identifies five success factors that are required for high-performing engagement and communications at system level.
  • Systems that have achieved notable success in partnership working have embedded strong engagement and communications at the heart of decision-making and system transformation work. They recognise that it is a key enabler of change and in building common ambition. These systems also invest in building strong relationships and do so on a planned, systematic and continuous basis.
  • A compelling narrative that all system partners buy into and which is well understood and supported by the public and staff is among the hallmarks of a thriving integrated care system.
  • A broad and strategic engagement strategy is important to build confidence and trust.
  • As integrated care systems have developed, different areas have established different approaches to how they structure, resource and network their engagement and communications functions across organisations.
  • Effective pooling and coordination of engagement and communications resources and expertise across organisational boundaries is key and stands out as a critical enabler in systems furthest ahead in their integration journey.

The NHS Confederation will support engagement and communications leaders in integrated care systems and the partners that comprise them to take forward the findings from this report.