Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 28

High-profile court cases and shock government health warnings can prompt a big increase in public enquiries to local health organisations and prove a headache to handle.

For East Kent Hospitals trust it was the publication of the Ayling report last July that spurred it into action. It created a new way to handle calls, not only from patients of the disgraced Kent GP but also from the media, and did it without resorting to expensive helplines.

The trust's communications department created a set of procedures that used the expertise and availability of existing resources.

This ensured a structured approach that incurred minimal costs.

During office hours, switchboard staff redirected callers to the patient advice and liaison service, with outof-hours calls passed to the site coordinator. Media contact was always directed to the press office or the oncall press officer.

Patient advice and liaison services and the site co-ordinator were asked to record the name of the caller, whether they were a relative or friend, their telephone number, brief details of their concern and their date of birth or patient number. The caller was assured that someone would call them back.

The information was analysed by hospital managers, which identified an appropriate member of the clinical or managerial team to make the return call. The strategy worked so well that the trust decided to use it for future events.

Jim Murray is director of communications for East Kent Hospitals trust. james. murray@ekht. nhs. uk