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Blog: How to communicate changes to health services in your community


8 December 2015

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NEL CSU (commissioning support unit) explains how to communicate health changes to your local population, and manage media enquiries.

Planning is the key to communicating changes to health services in your community and negating possible 'bad press'.

Be strategic in your planning. Ensuring you have a communications expert involved right from the start will make sure you are prepared. A communications expert can help you identify the risks and prepare for them before they happen.

NEL CSU (commissioning support unit) explains how to communicate health changes to your local population, and manage media enquiries.

Planning is the key to communicating changes to health services in your community and negating possible 'bad press'.

Be strategic in your planning. Ensuring you have a communications expert involved right from the start will make sure you are prepared. A communications expert can help you identify the risks and prepare for them before they happen.

Engaging with the public and your stakeholders should be the first phase of a solid communications plan for any issue or event. It should be an integral part of the organisation’s business, and in particular, the whole process of change. The media can also help at this stage to get your messages across. 

To help with your on-going relationship with the media and the public, ask yourself – if you engage and consult on what may be seen as positive changes to the same extent as negative changes? The NHS hardly ever engages or consults on a new service, but always does so on closure of a service. So it is not surprising that, like Pavlov’s dog, there is an automatic assumption by the public that a consultation means something negative.

Of course news isn't always received in the way you would like and you can't control everything. Developing good relationships with journalists should help you. Here are our top tips for handling any media inquiries.

·       Make sure you have an agreed plan in place for dealing with the media.

·       Agree on who will speak to the media. Depending on the issue it may be a member of the board or an executive team member.  Make sure it is someone who can speak with authority and is trained to speak to the media and that they are actually available when needed.  Have another person to call upon should they not be available.

·       Give some perspective. For instance if you are closing a walk-in service, tell the public how many appointments each GP surgery would have to add to cover the appointments from the walk-in service.  It would generally be quite low.

·       Make sure you are open and honest in your dealings with journalists.

·       Keep a record of any calls you receive from the media and the questions asked.

·       Monitor coverage of the issue, correct information if it is not factually correct – however ask would responding lead to further negative coverage?   

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