David urges a new approach to communicating with NHS folk


Mind your language


So, how was your company conference? Great, you can now get on with implementing the 60-page territory plans that the field guys spent the winter writing – the plans that link to the marketing strategy agreed with the bosses in Tokyo/Chicago/Paris/Copenhagen.

Needless to say, 40 of those 200 marketing slides involved setting out a PEST analysis of the new NHS, so that now you’re confident of a winning approach. Ha! Sure.

Most people I meet are struggling with two slight issues regarding the NHS. They don’t understand what’s going on and they can’t communicate with the people who manage it.

A bit harsh, but if the guys in the field were better able to relate to NHS managers then those people would open up, tell them what is going on, build a rapport and be more amenable to the desired product messages.

Having the right questions to trigger the holy grail of openness will gradually reveal the hooks on which to hang a value proposition. By managers I mean commissioners, CCG lead GPs, GP practice managers, clinical directors and operational service managers in hospitals and community services.

There have to be simpler ways of equipping the guys with things to ask about, rather than things to tell. I haven’t met anyone who is aware of a key letter that went out on 12th December – whack ‘NHS Gateway 06300’ into a search engine and you’ll find it. It’s the first hit!

This is an extremely significant letter signalling future NHS ways of working. Senior folk in the field should be able to translate its multiple nuances, but anyone opening a conversation with an NHS manager, by asking their interpretation of its content, would demonstrate a refreshingly alert approach and may get some revelatory responses.

NHS managers often have no clinical or scientific training. They don’t read clinical papers and they don’t understand basic pharmacology. They are unfamiliar with QALYs, prices, half-life, posology and relative risk reduction. Furthermore, they don’t look
at the NICE website.

This is a big opportunity for you to simplify, place into context and explain, using their language, what matters to them – especially with relevant local NHS facts thrown in. But only after using guided open questions to understand their position! Did you practice that at conference? Or did you spend the whole afternoon of day two role playing how to use a complex chart that only a handful of clinicians could ever understand?

It’s time to get real.  


David Thorne is Chair, Washington Community Healthcare and Non-Executive Director, City and Vale GP Alliance. Go to blueriverconsulting.co.uk