New health partnerships, methods of delivering care and new structures are being developed on an almost constant basis within the health and care sector as the winds of change spread across providers and commissioners. In some areas the differentiation between providers and commissioners will increasingly become indistinct while in other areas organisational autonomy might become more pronounced. It is a complex world with local health systems finding their own way of emerging in good shape from the ‘sticky toffee pudding’ (as the BBC recently termed the nationwide sustainability and transformation plans).
All of our clients, local, regional and national, are tending to require support to help them address the new forms and function. Much of the current re-shaping of the NHS is taking place behind the doors of organisational headquarters but in some areas the new approach is beginning to impact on service delivery - and public and patients need to be kept at the forefront of our thinking.
While Joe and Joanna Public might not care too much about the development of ‘an accountable care organisation for their health and social care local economy’ they might be a little bit more perturbed if the service in their local community hospital is changed in some way or that the local facility is closed entirely. They are also likely to have a view if their local A&E is downgraded to an urgent care centre or minor injuries unit and they end up having to travel another 30 miles to the nearest emergency department.
Throughout all of these changes, whether directly to services or in the background to organisational form, the public have to be kept aware of what is changing and the nature of the organisations involved. As current organisations begin to lose their identity and new partnerships are formed, the public need to know who is involved and how they are funded. As stated many times by many people, the NHS is probably Britain’s best-loved ‘brand’. In the creation of new organisations and services, the public will need reassurance about the NHS role and its sense of continuity. This becomes even more important if there is an integration of public and private sector provision somewhere in the mix.
We have seen some of this thinking played out in our work on design and branding for the creation of new ‘health hubs’ and development of STPs. In the production of marketing and communications materials we have worked with clients to promote the new services or plans and ensure that they are fully compliant with the new NHS Identity guidelines. Communications, as ever, is key. Public and patients need to know where they are going, who is providing the service, why they should be going to a certain service, and why things may well be changing. They need to understand their role in all of this and be empowered to become more equipped to better manage their own health, with the support of the NHS and other local services when appropriate.