Defending The NHS Public Relations Budget
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Defending The NHS Public Relations Budget

In my five years, I was not involved in fluffy campaigns, but life-changing and lifesaving work

Holmes Report

For the last five years I was head of communications for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, an organisation of more than 8,000 staff members and a budget of over £500m a year. For the last year, I was chair of the Foundation Trust Communications Network.

During that time, my work was dominated by ensuring patients, their families and friends, understood when they should come to hospital and what services we offered. I managed my team, with just over 0.08 percent (£400k) of the overall hospital budget.

My role was to “lead the communications function for the Trust," maintaining excellent proactive and reactive media relations and staff communications through the smooth and effective running of the communications team. And to work closely with board members and other key committees to advise on policy formulation and the handling of key decisions.”

I write this in my own right – as a member of the CIPR board and the founder of my own consultancy, Pinch Point Communications.

In my five years, I was not involved in fluffy campaigns, but life changing and life saving work. Organ donation, working with Dr Jacqueline Cornish to highlight her internationally acclaimed work on non-relative bone marrow donors. Working with Professor Andrew Dick on his award-winning work in eye health and eye surgery. Chairing the Bristol Health Partners communications group, helping the board to engage the population of Bristol in the future policies of healthcare through TEDMED Live this past April.

And I spent time working with staff, ensuring that they felt passionate about the hospitals' work. With nine sites, if we stood any chance of saving the six percent we needed to - or £30m a year - all staff had to work across wards, team, hospitals to come up with transformational ways of working and delivering savings.

I was hugely proud to launch our staff awards, funded by official charity Above & Beyond, where we honoured a nurse who had established an acute oncology service. By keeping patients with complications in their chemo or radiography treatment out of hospital, yet with the right access to the right treatment, the service saves the NHS thousands of pounds day.

We also honoured our IT team which had brought in a new system across all nine hospitals, without one thing going wrong, or one patient record lost;  a system that was massively cheaper than the national IT platform. Fluffy? Not a bit of it.

The Trust I worked for went through a very painful independent inquiry, quite rightly, and there will be more. My role and that now of my successor is to ensure that the NHS is open and honest – always.  And places itself at the centre of the life of the community it serves. Which means speaking to journalists - locally, regionally, nationally, internationally;  liaising with MPs, councils, our two universities in Bristol, the police, the ambulance services, and the social services that support our patients when they go home. 

Who would you like to do this? A senior nurse, who could actually be seeing patients? The award-winning consultants who are quite literally saving lives and sight? Or the communications professionals? I rest my case.

Sarah Pinch (@ms_organised) is a board member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and founder of Pinch Point Communications. She is writing in response to BBC London’s story this morning which highlighted £9.7m spending on the salaries of public relations staff and £3m on consultancy contracts over three years, attacked as ‘wasteful’ by pressure groups.

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