NHS communications

Diversity, reputation and finances: Key concerns outlined in major NHS communications report

A new report examining the NHS communications profession has outlined the priorities for the workforce and how challenges like deteriorating finances, worsening reputation and industrial action are impacting services.

The report, The state of NHS communications, has been developed by a number of bodies, including the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the Centre for Health Communication Research plus consultancies Freshwater and Grayling.

Communications leaders say their biggest challenges have been the limited budgets, workforce shortages, and industrial action.

Future challenges are expected to centre around dealing with the NHS’s worsening reputation on both a local and national level, as well as the impact of budget cuts and staff reductions as workloads intensify.

“This is the most comprehensive analysis of the NHS communications profession...”

The survey, conducted at the start of the year, gained 194 total responses – 130 of which are from the most senior communicators in their respective organisations.

The 130 were mainly from NHS trusts and integrated care boards (ICBs), which the NHS Confederation says represents nearly half of all the most senior communications professionals working at trusts and ICBs.

One of the survey’s key findings was that less than 5% of the most senior NHS communicators are from an ethnic minority background – three in five (61%) reported that their communications team did not reflect the community it serves.

The most senior leaders are likely to be white females with an undergraduate degree and possibly a specific communications qualification, according to the report.

The male-to-female breakdown of the most senior communicators is 72%-28% in favour of women – despite this, a higher proportion of the most senior male communicators (31%) were on the NHS’s highest pay band, compared to the proportion of women (20%).

“This is the most comprehensive analysis of the NHS communications profession ever undertaken,” said the NHS Confederation’s director of communications, Daniel Reynolds.

“It shows the vital role communications professionals play in helping local people understand how to access services as well as leading on engagement with the NHS’ 1.4 million staff.”

“…the NHS will be a key battleground issue in the election.”

Deteriorating finances and dwindling performance against waiting time targets are earmarked as some of the main reasons for concerns of the NHS’s reputation, as the country gears up for an election later this year.

Developing effective communication strategies to help the public understand what the health service is doing in light of these challenges is considered a major priority.

Teams’ ability to move with the times and harness the potential of things like AI was also touched upon – over three-quarters (77%) reported not being well enough equipped to make proper use of AI to enhance productivity.

Director at the Centre for Health Communication Research, John Underwood, said: “Senior communicators are understandably concerned about the reputation of the NHS given declining performance and satisfaction levels.”

He added: “The NHS is ranked as the second most important issue of concern to the public, which means the NHS will be a key battleground issue in the election.”

“We continue to see a concerning lack of diversity among our most senior roles…”

The report has called for a new taskforce to be established to examine the reasons why so few senior NHS communicators are from an ethnic minority background, and for it to make recommendations on how to cultivate a more ethnically diverse leadership team.

This taskforce should feature communications professionals from:

  • Local NHS organisations
  • NHS Providers
  • NHS Confederation
  • NHS England
  • Other national bodies
  • Experts in diversity and inclusion

Communications director at NHS Providers, Adam Brimelow, added: “We continue to see a concerning lack of diversity among our most senior roles, particularly when it comes to ethnicity.

“This survey provides a more accurate baseline that we can assess the profession’s progress against in future years, but it’s clear that we are less ethnically diverse than the wider profession and that we are probably regressing.”

Image credit: iStock

NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

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