Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 30 31

With close attention to distribution networks and guides to pertinent health and policy issues, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital trust's own magazine could provide a template for other trusts, explains Matt Akid

South London pensioner Irene Bosher is not exactly your average magazine model - she is 75, not 25, and she lives in Stockwell, not Santa Barbara. And you're unlikely to hear Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell talking about knee replacement operations.

But Mrs Bosher was chosen as the cover star for the winter 2004 edition of Guy's and St Thomas'Hospital trust community magazine South of the River.Mrs Bosher is making a full recovery following a knee replacement operation which was made possible by a new project at Guy's and St Thomas' to ensure that older people are fit for surgery and then receive the best postoperative care.Mrs Bosher's story was the ideal focal point for our cover feature on older people's health issues in the third edition of the magazine.

We launched South of the River in summer 2003 because we wanted to improve the way we communicate with our local community.

We also wanted to harness goodwill towards the NHS through genuine community involvement in our hospital by encouraging people to become members of our foundation trust, get involved in the fundraising appeal for our new children's hospital or become hospital volunteers. South of the River was also a new vehicle for highlighting the trust's range of job opportunities and disseminating health information in an accessible way.

A lot of hard work was needed before the first edition was published last summer and it started with pitching our vision for the magazine to trust chief executive Dr Jonathan Michael. Fortunately, he was receptive to the idea of a community magazine that would appeal to people who might not pick up a publication which 'looks like an NHS magazine'.

Having invited design proposals from a number of companies, we chose Trident Communications as the designers and together we refined their original ideas to come up with a readable, but not dumbed-down, magazine.

The biggest single task was the development of a distribution database to ensure that the 30,000 copies of the magazine reached all corners of Lambeth and Southwark. Our former communications officer, Karolyn Andrews, put in a huge amount of work so that South of the River is now available from GP surgeries, high street pharmacies, leisure centres and many other outlets. Key stakeholders such as community and religious leaders and local politicians receive individually posted copies, and members of the public can pick up copies from display stands in our hospitals.

With the design and distribution finalised, the final and most important piece of the jigsaw was the editorial content.

South of the River includes features on topics relevant to our local community, such as sexual health and cultural diversity. There is a seasonal health check-up feature and question and answer guides to big NHS issues like patient choice and foundation trusts.

We also include articles that will give people a reason to keep hold of the magazine, including a cut-out-andkeep guide to local NHS services, useful health website details and a competition.

NHS jargon is kept to a minimum and there are lots of e-mail contacts and phone numbers so that our readers know where to go for further information.

We have now published three editions of South of the River, but has it been a success?

A readership survey in the first edition found that 67 per cent said the magazine was 'excellent'while 69 per cent found it 'very useful'.

Anecdotal feedback has also been positive: copies of the magazine distributed at Guy's and St Thomas' have been snapped up quickly, local businesses have been keen to advertise in the magazine (although we have decided to keep it ad-free for now) and a number of our health and social care partners, and other external organisations, have asked about editorial space.

And acute and primary care trusts in places as far apart as Birmingham and Croydon have contacted us because they have seen the magazine and are interested in doing something similar.

Our new communications officer Katie Fleming and communications assistant Jonathan Temerlies have launched an evaluation exercise, including a questionnaire on the trust's website and face-to-face interviews in places where the magazine is available, such as GP surgeries.

South of the River could provide a template for other NHS organisations as we all strive to engage with our local communities. Our experience so far has certainly taught us some important lessons.

The key to success is to get your distribution network right and make sure your front cover photo is strong enough to persuade people to pick up your magazine: it might seem obvious but you must produce a magazine that people want to read and that is widely available. l Matt Akid is communications manager for Guy's and St Thomas'Hospital trust.

Key points

Guy's and St Thomas'has launched its own magazine to improve community relations.

30,000 copies are distributed across Lambeth and Southwark.

The front cover features local people rather than celebrities or models.