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Why freelancers could be the key to tackling NHS comms challenge

With the publication earlier this year of the State of NHS Provider Communications report from NHS Providers, we look at the role that freelancers and agencies play in NHS communications.

Talk to any member of NHS staff about the key challenges they face and you can guarantee it won’t be long before the words “more for less” are uttered.

Whether it’s nurses on the frontline grappling with staffing shortages or service managers trying to plug funding gaps, there is no doubt the demands on our health service are increasing at a rate that finances just cannot keep up with.

So, it’s perhaps no surprise that a recent survey of NHS communications leaders found the number one challenge for their teams was “delivering more with less”.

As one respondent said: “[They] have taken out 45% of our budget for comms and engagement over the last four years, while at the same time the ask has increased exponentially.”

Never have communications teams been expected to perform a wider range of tasks. From managing high level crisis communications to mastering new skills like video production, teams are covering more ground than ever before – no mean feat considering the report found that, on average, each currently has a vacancy for one full-time post.

This is where freelancers can help. Recruiting to permanent positions can be a lengthy and costly process, and doesn’t always result in the right fit for the team. One survey participant expressed concerns that recruitment is the worst they have seen it in 30 years, due to a shortage of staff with the right skills.

Using temporary external support such as freelancers or agencies means teams can plug gaps as and when they need to, flexing up and down as required, and ensuring they have people with the right skills and experience to fit the exact task that needs doing. Need a report writing? Hire a freelancer with report-writing experience. Got a complex engagement plan to pull-off? Seek out an agency with those skills.

Using specialised external support means you can get the job done by someone with the skills you need, rather than asking a ‘generalist’ member of the team to apply themselves to something that’s not necessarily within their skillset.

It can also give teams the headspace and thinking time that is so often pushed to the bottom of the pile. Getting an agency with the right sort of experience to take over leading on production of a monthly newsletter can free up the in-house team to focus on responding to the jobs that come in the door every day, putting their knowledge of the organisation and their existing relationships with staff to good use.

Another key concern from those surveyed was the growing importance of sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs), which will see fundamental changes in the way care is delivered, bringing with it the need to explain these changes to staff and patients in a clear and engaging way.

For most teams, this work is an additional task on top of their already heavy workloads. Hiring external support to take on some of the ‘day jobs’ can give in-house teams time to give the STP work the focus it rightly deserves.

What is overwhelmingly clear from the report is that NHS communications teams are doing a huge range of fantastic work but they cannot continue as they are. Sometimes all that may be needed is a small, helping hand, the chance to take their foot off the gas and think creatively about solutions to their problems.

Whether it’s long or short-term support, using freelancers and agencies can be a cost-effective way to keep the engine running when the load is ever-increasing.

If you could use a little extra capacity now and then to write, edit or proofread a newsletter, blog post, report, leaflet or website, contact us today.

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