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Research Case studies

Communications in the NHS Fit for the Modern World

The Centre for Public Relations Studies (CPRS) has established itself internationally as a leading think tank for communication and research and education. It works with practitioners at senior management and board level operating in complex and challenging organisations in both the private and public sectors. One aspect of the Centre’s work is with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the world’s largest publicly-funded health system and the fourth largest employer in the world, with 1.5 million staff.

The challenge of constant change

The NHS is constantly changing; developing new services, working with new partners and responding to patient needs and Government initiatives. The organisation also has millions of stakeholders who need information about services and health campaigns – thus, communication is key.

Over a number of years the Centre, based in our University’s Faculty of Business and Law, has been working with the NHS and the Department of Health to develop the capability of their professional communicators.

The Centre first researched and developed a capability framework for NHS communicators, called NHS Evolve. This framework, for the first time, provided a comprehensive diagnostic and development tool to enable the NHS to ensure its professional communicators were equipped with the right skills, knowledge and competencies to operate effectively and at the right level. It proved to be a major breakthrough in the NHS.

Designing and implementing a world-beating Masters programme

The Centre then developed this work through the creation of an innovative and flexible Masters programme in Strategic Communication for NHS communicators operating up to Board level. Course content is based on the thought-leading research of the Centre, particularly the leadership aspects of strategic communication. The Masters is co-created with the NHS each time it runs, it is effectively a framework in which the content can be re-designed and developed according to the needs of the course delegates and in response to the dynamic health environment.

The course brings together leading research, learning methods and assessments suitable for busy executives with immediate impact in a demanding service. At a recent international conference it was hailed as world-beating in design and implementation.

Publishing guidance on best practice in communication

Another large research project in 2008 and 2009 investigates ‘What Good Looks Like’ in NHS communication and resulted in the publication of an NHS policy document called ‘The Communicating Organisation’. Endorsed by the NHS’s CEO, this document has been issued to all other CEOs and Boards in the NHS and is the definitive guidance on best practice in communication.

The work the Centre has done over a number of years with the NHS is recognised internationally in both the academic and professional communities, with research appearing in the highest-ranking research journals in the field. More importantly that this, the work is transforming practice across the NHS and the importance of communication as an asset and indicator of performance is being recognised throughout the service. For the Centre, this is just one example of the type and level of work it is undertaking in a range of diverse and challenging organisational contexts.

lady communicating information to a man

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