Following the publication of the NHS Providers State of Communications report last month I’ve been reflecting on the role of communications within an NHS Provider trust and the impact that we as communications professionals can have on the delivery of trust objectives. My own experience has been varied in terms of how our profession is regarded strategically within organisations but interestingly I have never felt that good, solid communications advice hasn’t been valued.
I do however wonder if we are our own worst enemies in terms of positioning communications at a strategic level within our organisations and this links to a number of areas reflected in the report. I know I don’t consistently demonstrate return on investment in the same way as colleagues in other corporate functions such as estates and finance for example. Sometimes this is because it is a challenge as a lot of our work doesn’t translate easily into statistics and numbers, and sometimes it’s because I simply don’t make the time. I’m already working on the next priority without building in time to reflect on learning and added value. In my experience, this is the nature of working in a busy NHS provider environment, but that doesn’t make it right.
However, we have made some progress in NELFT with a regular communications performance report to our executive management team and a review session with our wider Trust Board. This has highlighted the differing views and understanding of what a communications team is actually here to deliver within an NHS trust and made me realise that as a communications professional I need to constantly ensure I am supporting and educating staff to understand the professional expertise we bring.
I also think it’s easy to get caught up in being very operationally focused, perhaps because in some trusts the team is small so everyone has to chip in and do a bit of everything. Often I think that communicators are solutions focused and driven to deliver positive outcomes so like to get stuck in and get things done. This is great and we definitely need to ensure that the operational activity takes place but it needs to be balanced with a longer-term strategic focus and demonstration of our added value as senior leaders. This may differ in the various NHS providers based on their organisational aims and objectives but the principle remains the same. We have strategic value and experience to share that can support the delivery of these objectives, improve staff experiences and support positive patient outcomes.
I hope the State of Communications Report will go some way to highlighting this but I would like to make a plea to my fellow professionals – we know how to communicate so let’s start telling our story and positioning ourselves as integral members of leadership teams. I am privileged to work in an industry full of creative, talented and skilled communications professionals and I believe we have a lot to offer. We might have a challenge to prove our worth but I can’t think of a better group of people to take this challenge on. If we want to see a change we have a professional duty to be part of the change.