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Engage public with resource prioritisation

Integrated and effective communications strategy for decommissioning essential

Caroline White

Friday, 30 September 2016

It is essential to engage with the public from the very start when making difficult decisions about the prioritisation of resources and changes to local services, says a new report* from NHS Clinical Commissioners, published this week.

The major changes needed to achieve long-term sustainability and transformation are making potentially tough choices increasingly inevitable, says the report

Produced in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the report draws on academic research and practical insights from commissioners, patient groups, and NHS England, to help CCGs to see through the changes while successfully commanding the confidence of the public, patients, local politicians and other relevant parties.

It emphasises that managing the perceptions and gaining the support of the local community, clinicians, and the public is vital.

This process must be started early through active engagement, consultation, and the nurturing of trust, supported by an integrated communications and engagement strategy, it says.

The changes must be planned carefully well in advance, while decision making should always be based on good reliable data, where available, it adds.

“Public reaction and political sensitivities are perceived by some as the greatest barriers to re-prioritising services. Any plan to reconfigure, relocate or withdraw a service can be met with opposition and be perceived by the public, politicians and sometimes clinicians as detrimental to patients and based entirely on the need to cut costs,” says the report.

“Clinical commissioners have always had to make tough decisions and prioritise how finite resources are allocated while maintaining a fair and accessible healthcare system,” said Dr Amanda Doyle, NHS Clinical Commissioners Co-Chair and Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Blackpool CCG.

“With increasing financial pressures, spiralling demand and a drive to achieve long-term sustainability and transformation this is now more the case than ever,” she added.

“One of our key messages in this timely NHSCC publication is to engage with all relevant stakeholders from the beginning – patients and communities, local government officials and politicians, national bodies and the media to name just a few.”

Fellow NHS Clinical Commissioners Co-Chair and Chair of NHS Aylesbury Vale CCG Dr Graham Jackson said: “Patients and the public are understandably concerned about what change and financial pressure in the NHS means for the services they may rely on and have come to expect.

“It is often the case that change is necessary to deliver a better service, rather than just being synonymous with cuts, but it is clear from recent news stories and public campaigns that this frequently isn’t what comes across.

“We need to make sure that our reasons for seeking to do things differently are fully understood by all, and part of the way we do this is through engaging with all our stakeholders right from the start, one of the key messages of [the report].”

Dr Iestyn Williams, Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham said: “As with all local decision-makers, clinical commissioners are faced with the task of making decisions that balance the interests of a variety of stakeholders, dealing with imperfect evidence, and working through sometimes imperfect implementation channels – and doing all of this in an extremely challenging financial climate.”

* Making difficult decisions Commissioning healthcare in changing times. NHS Clinical Commissioners, September 2016.

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