The NHS has much to learn from the work of 38 Degrees at both a local and national level, writes Antony Tiernan
The failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust have undoubtedly turned the tide on openness, transparency and communications within the NHS – from Westminster and Whitehall through to the boards and wards of individual hospitals.
We are talking more with patients, local people and staff, but there is much more to do. And, crucially, learning from 38 Degrees’ approach to having a conversation, rather than just broadcasting, is vital if it is to pay off.
NHS communicators, as well as boards, senior managers and others, need to make sure they’re having a two-way conversation with people – whether it’s individual patients, local campaign groups or staff – and for them to be able to have a real impact on the running of their local health services.
The days of lip service engagement are truly over!
‘Learning from 38 Degrees’ approach to having a conversation, rather than just broadcasting, is vital’
The number of NHS organisations, chief executives and other leaders taking to social media in the past year or so has been a good way to start, recognising the way Twitter, for instance, breaks down the barrier between different hierarchies.
Patients can now talk directly to hundreds of local hospitals and their chief executives, giving feedback (good or bad) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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However, 38 Degrees’ approach to using people’s inboxes rather than just social media is important too. This is not something the NHS really does. In the main, patients still get their appointment letters by post – let alone receiving interactive emails that allow them to help shape services at their local hospital.
‘By changing the way we engage and communicate with our patients, local people and staff we can use it as a force for good’
The NHS has also seen a rise in the number of NHS feedback websites such as Patient Opinion, NHS Choices and iWantGreatCare. The key is that the NHS dedicates enough time and resource to be able to give credible and useful feedback back to the patients, answering their questions or following up on concerns.
The growth of 38 Degrees and, in particular, its localist agenda, will mean the NHS, including local hospitals, will be the focus of a rising number of their campaigns. By changing the way we engage and communicate with our patients, local people and staff we can use it as a force for good, rather than something to shy away from.
Antony Tiernan (@AntonyTiernan) is director of communications and corporate affairs at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and founded @NHScommsorg
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The lessons the NHS can learn from 38 Degrees