The NHS Long Term Plan could save the UK from a critical shortage of NHS related news in the wake of Brexit. Milking the plan for all it’s worth will keep the PR machine spinning and save hundreds of jobs in NHS communications.
While Brexit has generally proved a flop with the public, it has been a big hit with journalists and communications professionals who have praised the EU’s exit strategy for providing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of news about the stockpiling of Spanish nurses, imminent shortages of fax paper and plans to relocate the NHS England board to an emergency bunker in Belgium.
As the Brexit deadline nears, the NHS news industry fears a return to the familiar diet of stories about waiting lists, management misdemeanours and bungled contracts.
The health secretary Matt Hancock has taken urgent steps to increase the supply of novelty news with the creation of his own special media unit, NHSX, to manufacture digitally themed news-like material.
But managers are pinning their greatest hopes on the NHS Long Term Plan to close the looming news gap. Like the Venezuelan government, NHS England believes that the best way to increase the value of a currency is to keep printing it.
So it has told communications professionals that all press releases issued from now until at least 2025 should include at least one reference to the plan. No angle is too slight, no connection too tenuous.
As ever, the NHS England press office has been leading the way. Recent examples of their output include the headline “Millions to get fast support to overcome back pain thanks to NHS Long Term Plan”, which appears to promise an exciting breakthrough in the use of rolled-up strategy documents for lumbar support, but turns out to be about installing physiotherapists in GP surgeries.
We are also told that the “NHS Long Term Plan will help problem drinkers and smokers”. We search in vain for news that drinkers are now “reading to forget” or that smoking all 136 pages of the Long Term Plan in a single sitting is effective aversion therapy for 20-a-day smokers.
Worried that you can’t squeeze a plan reference in? Don’t be. “Missed GP appointments costing NHS millions” explains that the Long Term Plan will mean more money for general practice and consequently far more opportunities for missing appointments.
Then there is this: “20,000 mums get help from maternity advice line”, which provides a timely reminder that mums, babies and advice only really started with the Long Term Plan.
“NHS set to save record £300 million on the NHS’s highest drug spend” doesn’t dwell for too long on the dull clinical detail about biosimilar versions of adalimumab but gets straight to the point: “As part of the NHS’s Long Term Plan we are ensuring every penny of extra investment is wisely spent,“ Simon Stevens says, putting the reckless extravagance of the past firmly behind him.
“Patients avoid 7,500 nights in hospital with ‘tailored’ home help scheme” describes how one area has reduced stays in hospital by up to ten days. All credit to the Long Term Plan, announced in the same week, for achieving so much so soon, though as the headline suggests there is much left to be done to reduce ten-year stays.
One last example from the hundreds already on the NHS England website illustrates the principle that lack of relevance should never deter a good flack: “NHS top doctor prompts stronger mental health safeguards on high street botox” is about mental health checks on people about to undergo cosmetic procedures. “The news comes soon after publication of the NHS Long Term Plan, which will dramatically expand mental health treatment,” the press release adds artlessly.
Nobody is fooled, but it doesn’t matter. This is just filler. If the effects wear off in a few weeks and the news starts to sag we’ll just pump in some more Long Term Plan.
As the Long Term Plan has only been out for two months it can claim few if any of the benefits attributed to it so far. But that’s the beauty of the plan – it is long term in all directions, improving the past as well as the future.
Media editor: Julian Patterson
Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Julian Patterson.