All of us working in and around the NHS know what it means when a patient is moved to intensive care.
Any of you who have had relatives struck down by CV-19, will understand the meaning.
The nation, watching the progress of this contagion, knows what it means when the Prime Minister is taken, less than a mile from Number 10, across Westminster Bridge, to St Thomas’ Hospital.
Any parent, sister, wife, partner, colleague, who has had someone close to them whisked off, into the tangle of tubes, stands and machines that go beep, the anonymous staff draped in billowing gowns, masks and visors… that is intensive care, will know how intense the worry, the what-if’s, the heart sink.
Anyone who has watched the rolling TV news will, by now, be expert in the mysteries of this novel-virus, will know the pattern of its fearful progress. Will know how patients struggle to breath, how ventilators save lives.
One way or another, now, we are all experts by our experience. We know enough to know, when the PM was on his door-step, last Thursday, clapping the NHS, he couldn’t have known how soon he would be in their hands.
We are not surprised.
When we saw his laboured performance on YouTube, encouraging us to stay at home… we knew he was very unwell.
When we are told he is in St Thomas’ Hospital, to ‘be near a ventilator‘, we know beds are under pressure, ventilators in demand and ITU is not a waiting room.
We know the DH press office will be mindful of the reaction of the trading markets at the news the PM is very sick. They will be thinking about the security implications if the PM is sedated and intubated… whose finger is on ‘that button’.
They will be thinking about the reaction of the public… yet it is the one thing they need not worry about.
The public know what’s going on and the only thing they need to know is why the No10 press machine doesn’t tell them what the men and woman, waiting two meters apart, outside Tesco’s, know already.
… the man is very sick.
Press officers need to learn you can’t half communicate, you can’t tell half the story because eventually, you have to tell the whole story.
The general rule of good communications;
If, knowing the situation is bad and messaging is staged, the news can only get worse, as it gets closer to the truth.
If, knowing the situation is bad and the truth is told, subsequent messaging can only get better.
Press officers might remember…
The public are better informed than you think. Social media means there are no secrets anymore and rolling news means the public are better educated and knowledgeable.
The unexpected is only unexpected to people who aren’t ready and I judge the locked-down, unemployed, queuing, fearful nation is ready for just about anything.
Communicate internally first. Gossip and leaks will come from within. Accept it. Make sure the leaks are the right leaks and staff are prepared for inquisitive reporters who may try and catch them on-the-hop. Your people will be key advocates, disciples and allies.
Figure out (in advance if you can), who the key opinion formers are and how to communicate with them.
Whoever gets the message out first will shape the agenda and that will mean sharing information.
Careless messaging is damaging. Phrases like;
‘the PM is hands of one of the best A&E teams in the country’
… hacks-off every other, equally competent A&E team not working at Tommy’s and makes us all think our chances get slimmer the further away we are from Westminister.
I can imagine the panic across Whitehall and the dread press officers have for a major incident like this. There is one rule, yardstick and thing to remember…
…in the short term the truth might be seen as the enemy of managing the message but in the longer term it’s the story’s only friend.
News and Comment from Roy Lilley