Engagement, engagement, engagement and engagement! The Future of NHS Communications?

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference of the Association of Healthcare Communications and Marketing.   The main event was a talk by Simon Stevens NHS Chief Executive. He was really into engagement, engagement, engagement and engagement!

The last session was a panel discussion called The Future of NHS Communications (engagement obs). This made me think ‘What does the future look like?’  Here’s my thoughts…

The Future of NHS Communications is…

  • More like Ghandi not Stalin.  I didn’t make this phrase up it was mentioned at the conference and stuck in my head. Ghandi was about mobilisation.  Stalin was about dictating. The challenges that the NHS faces can only be dealt with by mobilising staff, patients, carers and citizens to be partners in change.  The future of NHS communications is about making this happen.
  • About engagement, engagement, engagement and engagement.    Simon Steven’s presentation was riddled with this word.  According to one delegate communications is not mentioned in the Five Year Forward Plan but he did spot the word engagement a few times.  The future of NHS communications is about getting better at stakeholder engagement. This requires many different skills to the role of a traditional ‘comms’ officer e.g. facilitation, online moderation, understanding of different dialogue methods, dialogue analysis, social media community management and the list goes on.  I am thinking that less and less  NHS communications will be about managing the message and keeping people in line.   More and more it will be about conversations leading to collaborative action.
  • Community mobilisation.  The future of NHS communications will be about encouraging people to take responsibility for their own healthcare system, to use it differently and to encourage others to use it differently.
  • Online engagement.   The future of NHS communications will be about online engagement.  As more and more information gets into people’s brains through screens  (a lot of it on mobiles and tablets) then this is where the NHS will need to have a strong presence.  But this can’t be a big brother presence, it will need to be a social presence: engaging in discussion; furnishing people with online content they can share; getting stuck into online debates; correcting misinformation; mobilising  digital influencers, across social networks.  Unless the NHS adapts to this challenge then it risks losing its relevance and its ability to engage and mobilise its constituents.
  • More forceful.  Massive change is required in health and social care.  This can’t be done by trying to make everyone happy.  NHS communications in the future will be more about conflict resolution, consensus building and win-win solutions.

That’s what I think.  What do you think? Do you agree?

Jonathan Bradley



One thought on “Engagement, engagement, engagement and engagement! The Future of NHS Communications?

  1. I wasn’t there – but I HAVE read the Five Year Plan. And yes, it could be more specific about communications and engagement specifics. But anyone who reads it knowing how poor the NHS has been at real engagement will realise at once that the Plan is doomed unless there is shortly a step-function improvement in the way in which community dialogues are conducted.
    Your analysis, Jon is correct in all important respects. What troubles many of us is that too many CCGs and Foundation Trusts are yet to perceive the risks they will run with their local reputations unless they take public involvement more seriously.

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