Case study: NHS reveals change communication success secrets

Revealed: the #NHSChange change comms success

July 21, 2014

Whisper it quietly but the NHS – one of Britain’s iconic institutions – is undergoing radical change.

Headlines talks to Rachel Hinde, a key member of NHS Improving Quality’s capacity and capability team, which is helping to turn the Government reforms into a reality.

In life, some things are inevitable. Change is one of them.

Whether this is deemed a negative, positive or even an irrelevance, it’s not something any of us can avoid.

However with clear communication and a robust framework for guidance, change can certainly provide a breath of fresh air.

It’s a challenge the NHS is going through currently – following the Government’s 2010 proposed reforms.

These changes came into force on April 1 last year with a new board – NHS England – responsible for the day-to-day operations and GP-led groups taking ownership of local budgets.

Make no mistake.

This change is huge, even for a constantly-evolving organisation like the NHS.

Long before April 2013, one team of improvement experts had taken a different approach to managing this process.

Forming a cross-function group covering the complex layering of the NHS, the organisation’s track record in attempts to change was analysed as a starting point for the project.

More than 200 people took part in the inward-looking process, participating in a series of workshops to discuss the challenges before them.

Rachel Hinde, part of the original project team at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and now working for its successor organisation NHS Improving Quality, said the approach resulted in a “collaborative effort”.

She said: “People came together to try and make it something that would genuinely connect with people in the NHS.

“It was almost a social movement in the sense that it was facilitated at the top but it was given to the practitioners in change.”

These vital discussions led to the creation of the NHS Change Model, a framework designed to support the NHS in adopting a shared approach to transformation.

A website aimed at outlining what needs to change, why it was needed and how it can happen was swiftly launched.

This was followed with a series of fortnightly webinars, taking place on Friday morning at 8.30am – before people got caught up in the hustle and bustle of the average working day.

Rachel said: “Fortnightly webinars were the most effective way of communicating.

“They covered different topics within change so it wasn’t repetitive. We had international speakers from Canada and people from different areas of the NHS talking about their experiences – a real mix and match.

“We treated those who came to the webinars as a community. Some got together on their own accord to get others to join the webinars. That’s when it started feeling more like a movement.”

As you may expect in this day and age, social media helped shape the NHS Change Model too.

Rachel continued: “We had regular Twitter chats using the hash-tag #NHSchange .

“People were throwing in observations, asking questions and for advice. It was an unnerving experience at the beginning as we’re putting ourselves on the line.

“We Storify-ed them so there was a record we could keep going back to and we could add to what we’ve done before.”

More traditional methods of communication were employed too. Stickers, newsletters and events helped spread the message throughout the NHS.

The reforms – which had been resolutely pushed through Parliament despite facing strong criticism – came into force a year ago.

And the crucial work of the NHS Change Model seeks to ensure these reforms, as well as ongoing changes in the NHS, are implemented in a positive way.

Rachel admits the challenge of embedding change is ongoing – and will be for some time yet.

She concluded: “The wider NHS is continuing to change and develop. I suspect we’ll all continue to go through change for a long time.

“The practitioners keep coming up with new ideas and we have to respond to that.”

Rachel’s tips on successfully communicating change
* You can never do too much. Keep it fresh.
* No-one wants to hear the same message. Give people a reason to keep coming back
* Be flexible. Not everyone wants to hear the information through the same channels
* Listen to your audience. We found a lot of people were suspicious of social media so had to carefully consider how we communicated with them.