With the healthcare sector under ever-increasing scrutiny, we investigate the best ways for NHS CEOs and Trusts to properly prepare and plan for negative press and media fallouts.
NHS Olympic Champion
Not since its inception in 1948 has the National Health Service faced such an incredible period of radical reform and change. It seems like an awful lot of NHS-related headlines have been wrapped around our fish and chips since we watched the spectacular celebration of this great British service, and in particular the work of the Great Ormond Street Hospital at the London 2012 Olympics. We’ve seen leaders come and go, swords have been fallen upon and apologies made as we try to find a way to deliver a more caring and effective service amidst substantial cost savings.
Couple this huge period of organisational change with the inevitable occurrence of human errors (and God forbid any random incidents of willful harm or neglect of patients) and I’m sure we will see yet more toe-curling articles in our newspapers in the months to come, before the new fitter and healthier NHS finally emerges.
Preparation is key
I, for one, would not relish one of those top jobs. I’m not sure that I am cut out to carry such huge responsibility for delivering change across such a vast and complex organisation. I’m happiest being on the side of helping Trust CEOs and Boards to prepare for crisis communication situations, to make sure they have considered exactly how they are going to handle the media should the day arise when bad news breaks.
We work with numerous NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts to deliver crisis media coaching. Sometimes we go in at a moment's notice to try and help those up the creek to find their paddle, more often we go in when it’s nice and calm and we can all think about avoiding getting stuck up the creek in the first place.
It’s fair to say that PR agencies and internal communications teams don’t work magic; we can’t actually keep bad news from your door and we certainly won’t play any part in helping to hide wrongdoing, but we can help you to plan and to be prepared.
Face your fears
Planning begins by facing your worst fears. Have a frank and confidential conversation with your communications team about what keeps you awake at night. It might be patient safety, perhaps it’s a financial matter or staffing issues, but if you fear that something is not right or you know it is going to become public, it is far better to plan for it and be prepared.
Preparation, honesty and transparency are key to successful media handling. By drawing up realistic crisis media scenarios, you can help to prepare considered responses. Look at the language you use, think through how you are going to respond to the press and who in your team is best placed to actually face the media.
Five Key Tips
Some key points to consider include:
- A crisis breaks at 5pm Friday afternoon – consider who is handling the press enquiries over the weekend.
- Who else in your organisation needs to know about the situation and have they been fully briefed? Drawing up some key Q&As provides an invaluable resource to ensure you and your senior team are all appraised of the same facts and therefore able to stay on message
- Do your staff know to whom they should refer media enquiries? You don’t want anyone who is not authorised to be commenting doing so as lack of correct, up-to-date information can make matters worse.
- Do you know what information the media wants, when its deadlines are and in what format it requires a response?
- Have you ever done an interview on camera or down the phone line? Your first time should not be on the pavement outside your Trust HQ!
What are your thoughts on preparing for a potential media crisis? Do you have any top tips to share or think I've omitted some obvious ones? We're always keen to know what you have to say, so don't be a stranger and leave us a comment or two.
And if you want to know more about crisis communication planning in the field of healthcare, we've put together a brand new eBook that's full to the brim with tips gleaned from our years' of experience in working in the sector. Take a look below:
Images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Comedy_Nose on Flickr.