Winner: Sandwell Healthcare trust Runners-up: Barts and the London trust; Stockport HA

Sandwell Healthcare trust

The communications department was set up last year and sits within the HR department. Communications were previously provided by a PR consultancy, in consultation with the trust secretary.

The department has a corporate communications manager and one fulltime assistant. Between them, they look after external communications, internal corporate communications and patient information.

The department's aim is to improve public and stakeholder access to information on health services. It has developed relationships with local journalists and is registering about six positive news stories a month. The launch of the trust's antiviolence policy was covered by regional television, radio and print press.

Staff were involved in drawing up the communications strategy and communication groups have been formed to cover the trust's two main sites. Media awareness training will take place this winter.

Furthermore, the staff newsletter has been revamped and is now more informal and the department has also helped to run the first staff opinion survey.

In addition, the department has joined a benchmarking group to look at opinion survey results and is part of the regional acute trusts' communications network.

The judges said:

We were particularly impressed that this was presented [to the judges] by two trust directors, neither of them communications professionals. This showed a very strong understanding of how communications can be an integral part of the work of the trust. The communications activities, though often modest, show a thorough understanding of how effective NHS communication delivers real benefits to the community.

Barts and the London trust

The trust includes some of the most famous hospitals in London, but has faced years of political uncertainty about their future.

The communications department is responsible for a 24-hour press service and reactive and proactive work, including Bengali news releases for the ethnic press. It holds briefings with MPs and stakeholders, particularly in relation to the capital redevelopments.

In addition, the team is responsible for internal communications, community and patient information, GP communications, publications and new media.

The head of communications manages a specialist team, members of which lead on particular areas of work. The team's aims tie into the trust's overall objectives and individual plans, which are reviewed every six months. Each team member has a personal development plan and three members are studying for professional qualifications.

Evidence of the team's effectiveness includes a redesign of the Link staff newspaper in January, work on a trust website and a handbook for GPs.

The staff and GP newsletters run readership surveys and the communications department monitors its effectiveness.

The judges said:

A very impressive professional communications department which understands the needs of local communities, staff and patients. The management of the corporate rebranding of a complex trust has been very well delivered.

Stockport health authority

The health authority employs 135 people in five directorates.

There are three primary care groups in its area and a three month consultation on primary care trust status is about to start.

The HA was one of the first to gain Investors in People accreditation, and its board was praised by assessors for the effort put into communications.

Directorates hold monthly team briefings that are reported in the staff newsletter, Signal, and all staff have a copy of the staff guide.

There are regular briefings for trusts and primary care contractors, for whom a bimonthly magazine, Frontline, is also produced. Newsletters and briefings were set up for primary care groups.

The trust has worked with community health councils on processes to involve the public.

And the HA has a website, www.stockporthealth.nwest.nhs that includes a patients' participation section that will be used during the PCT consultation process.

The department evaluates and reports on its events and newsletters. It has its leaflets checked by the Plain English Society, won a national award for its March 1999 annual report, and takes part in external accreditation schemes.

The judges said:

A very impressive range of published material, demonstrating the broad spread of HA activities. The development of the website is an important and popular vehicle for communicating with people within the HA area.