Louisa Desborough, Director, Freshwater Health and Social Care
I run the specialist public healthcare team within national marketing communications consultancy Freshwater UK. We provides consultancy services to organisations including statutory non-governmental bodies, NHS trusts, medico-legal services, education and training bodies, charities and the private sector.
They say that variety is the spice of life, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been in my current job for eight years, but I’ve yet to experience a single day that felt like another.
As most PIF members will know, communications is a diverse and complex discipline. At any given moment you might be grappling with spreadsheets of complex market performance data, brushing up on the latest digital engagement techniques, or explaining why clinical specialisation means that a frail elderly person will have travel further to access medical treatment.
First and foremost though, the job starts with the simple ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. That person could be a journalist, a chief executive, a newly qualified social worker, or the parent of a sick child. How could such a rich, kaleidoscopic window onto the world ever get old?
I’ll never forget the story a dear friend told me about the when she was diagnosed with a life-long condition that would involve not just pain but a major impact on her life choices. As a young woman, this was difficult to hear. Sitting alone in a hospital waiting room she was naturally feeling confused, distressed and vulnerable – her head full of questions. A nurse, clearly identifying with her need to understand her situation better, gave her a leaflet about the condition. It was a fundraising leaflet, containing messages designed to make an emotional connection with the reader, shocking them into action. In it, she read about how fellow patients had been known to end their owns lives to escape the dreadful suffering of the condition.
Now, I’m happy to say, my friend is fit, well and full of life. And her intelligence and healthy sense of irony allows her to look back on this episode with nothing more than a roll of the eyes. But her story always reminds me of the importance of the availability of good, tailored patient information – and the role of health service providers in making it available to the right person at the right time.
Patient information is so important because people receive it when they are at their most vulnerable. Nothing can replace one-to-one contact with a trained health professional, but the finer details of a consultation (which by necessity will almost always be too brief) are impossible to digest on the spot. And of course, getting access to a clinician to answer every query and deal with every anxiety is simply not always possible.
In this line of work, things change fast. There is a plethora of conflicting pressures – not just from the powers that be, but also from an increasingly demanding public, information-hungry media and online communities. Communicating in this context leaves you nowhere to hide and people are depending on you to get it right. PIF understands how important it is for its members to be up to date and provides fantastic resources to make sure that we stay in touch – with the issues, with the debates, with each other.
It’s also vital for us to have a protected space in which to discuss and reflect on the challenges we face openly. Being accountable to patients and the public is a given – but there are some thorny issues which are much likelier to be resolved if we can debate them openly, honestly and yes – privately, without fear of judgement.
One such issue is that of NHS funding. Public expectations of what the NHS should provide are huge, yet difficult decisions have to be made every day about which treatments and service to prioritise.
There is a great deal of political pressure to alleviate any concern people may have about access to the services they need, in a way that suits their individual needs and lifestyles. But equally we owe it to people to be honest about what is possible and allow them to have their say on the key decisions.
The role of PIF and its members in ensuring patients are empowered with good quality information has never been more important – or, with a multitude of other issues up in the air – more challenging.