Taxpayers’ Alliance attack NHS communications – just as government reprieves services

The Taxpayers Alliance is attacking Central London NHS trusts's decision to recruit a top level professional to lead communications - even though it may make a difference between life and death

Andrew Allison of the Taxpayers’ Alliance has delighted us today by unveiling the ‘non-job of the week’. Central London Healthcare NHS Trust are employing a head of communications at £75,000 a year. Allison isn’t being irresponsible in calling this a non-job. He very graciously concedes: 

“Of course I accept there has to be people employed to handle media enquiries and contact with the public, but the primary role of the NHS is to heal the sick.”

What if one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to heal the sick is sometimes done through communications strategies? In what kind of scenario would be this statement hold true?

Well let’s take a hypothetical situation in that there is a big flu epidemic which could threaten vulnerable groups such as the elderly in winter (a scenario that the Taxpayers’ Alliance themselves noted occured recently).

Central London is one of the areas most at risk due to close proximity of people in a region characterised by high volume and density of population.

Advisers tell us that the best way to prevent this is to roll out a big immunisation programme. This is reliant on letting those most at risk know about the programme. How do we reach those service users to get this information to them?

This would seem like the kind of thing you would need, I don’t know, a highly qualified Head of Communications and Engagement for? You might argue, the best in the business? 

So we’ve established that a head of communications can actually be one of the most efficient ways in preventing sickness and providing good healthcare. It’s not always the most important thing but can form a core part of a more complex network of health care. Failing to understand this has Allison getting carried away and asking a range of questions: 

“If this Trust has a head of communications earning over £70K a year, how large is the team beneath them? How many communications officers are there in London? How many are there in the UK?” 

 Well, London is massive. Lots of people live in it – roughly 8 million. And then there’s all the commuters and visitors who pass through from the rest of the country. As we’ve seen, we need good healthcare provision that can be flexible and be able to reach out to customers effectively.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see government waste my money. But I also want to enjoy the high-quality health care provided by the NHS. I think this health care should be available to all free at the point of use and funded by myself and my fellow taxpayers. 

 As it happens, the Taxpayers’ Alliance have form on this. Their call to slash government communications was answered by the Coalition. They particularly welcomed attacks on the public health advertising budget saying

 “The swelling of this budget in the last decade has coincided with extensive and expensive ‘nanny state’ PR campaigns paid for by you, the taxpayer. These campaigns simply do not offer value for money.” 

And gave the government 5/5 for its action on the issue when it halved government advertising budgets – no if, buts or maybes.

However, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had to reinstate £29 million of funding for healthy living and tobacco communication schemes after it was found that engagement with cessation and healthy living advice services had dropped, leading to increased ill-health, potential mortality and bigger costs for the NHS in the long run.

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