More for less: using communications to drive performance across the NHS

The news that Scottish Labour thinks that spending on NHS communications should be used to recruit more nurses not it only serves to perpetuate the Bridget Jones myth that communications isn’t a strategic activity but damages the potential for the NHS to perform better in straightened times. Communication is tied to the bottom line and is not an activity to be cut when the going gets tough.
Endless research proves the direct correlation between staff engagement and staff performance – the most recent commissioned no less that by the last Labour Government, the Macleod Report, concluded that engaged employees in the UK take an average of 2.69 sick days per year and 70 per cent of engaged employees say they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs. In the private sector, where sickness rates are considerably lower, staff engagement is a core business activity reflecting on reputation, customer service and the bottom line. Why else would financially successful organisations with exceptional reputations like Sears and Tesco be so committed to it?
According to Terry Leahy, Tesco’s CEO and one of the most successful organisations, staff engagement is fundamental. Tesco is too large to manage personally, so he trusts his managers to take decisions in line with the organisations values and customers. Perhaps more importantly, he, and his senior management team, are committed to engage with their staff – regularly – through effective communication.
Having worked for a number of years in the NHS, I know the commitment and passion that medical and support staff have for their roles in saving and improving patient lives. Frequently they feel disengaged with what is going on, either because they don’t know or understand, or because they suffer from information overload.
With sickness rates around 10.7 days per annum, per employee, the cost of a day’s sickness to the NHS is about £100 (excluding bank staff costs or the impact on colleagues). If the sickness levels could be reduced to about 6 days an NHS organisation with around 1,500 staff, would return well in excess of £500,000 per year – every year to frontline services.
That may be one of the reasons a number of NHS organisations are eschewing this outdated belief and investing in staff engagement. Birmingham Women’s Hospital is just one example of several in the West Midlands. Their commitment will undoubtedly bring about improvements in staff morale but it will also deliver cost savings that can be returned back to frontline health care.
Isn’t it time to end this apocryphal and damaging myth that spending on communication is a waste of money? Now more than ever it’s time to engage with our staff.

One Comment

  1. I hear what you’re saying, especially about the NHS, having worked with three Primary Care Trusts in the last four years. But the scale of the problem is huge and horror stories abound. They include the CEO who was paid well into six figures but completely undermined his management team by handling all internal communication direct. When given feedback about his intimidating style, contrasted with the commitment and engaging style demonstrated by many first line managers….he sacked the agency who undertook the diagnostic and appointed a “flunkie” into the head of comms role. She buried the diagnostic results.

    Or consider the government department who are supposed to be pathfinders in the innovation space, yet over three years only managed to shift their culture benchmark score amongst the top team at the expense of the middle manager results which deteriorated rapidly. Again, they changed the agency undertaking the diagnostic three times in that period.

    Culture change is desperately needed throughout the public services but the appreciative kind which recognises and pays homage to the good and the great people who keep the services running regardless. First line managers are key.

    The sooner re-structuring is aligned to culture development the better…and it need not be a hugely expensive exercise! Now’s the time for permanent change!

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