With coronavirus now declared to be a global health crisis, it's time to take action to ensure that the measures to protect staff, families, and the public are authoritatively communicated.
Stuart Notholt has unrivalled experience of delivering pandemic countermeasures communications at both the strategic and tactical levels, gained through work at the Department of Health and individual NHS Trusts. He has undertaken crisis communications planning for, amongst others, the Financial Services Authority and international risk management firm Crawford-THG. He has recently finished supporting an award-winning programme of civil contingencies work for the Department for International Trade, with a special focus on building and maintaining team resilience during a time of crisis.
Strategic planning - Department of Health Pandemic Countermeasures communications
Governments throughout the world were working to prepare countermeasures to a potential pandemic flu pandemic - recognized as the biggest single public health risk. In the UK, the Department of Health needed consistent communications strategies, capable of reaching the public, healthcare workers, and local government agencies such as the emergency services, both to alert stakeholders to the risk and ensure that media and other communications assets were in place.
Stuart Notholt worked with the English Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) and with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that each SHA had agreed communications plans drafted and tested. He wrote and delivered the 'Black Swan' high-level exercise to simulate communications challenges during the pandemic and managed internal communications between the Department of Health and the pandemic flu leads at SHA and Primary Care Trust level. Bespoke plans were also prepared for acute and mental health NHS trusts.
All 300 English SHAs and local NHS trusts had pandemic flu communications plans in position by the time of the outbreak of swine flu in May 2009. The UK's pandemic flu countermeasures programme was deployed operationally, providing a robust and successful response to the outbreak. During the swine flu outbreak, Stuart Notholt worked directly for NHS Hillingdon in delivering its communications programme.
Tactical response - Swine flu communications
Following the start of the swine flu outbreak in mid-2009, NHS Hillingdon in west London needed specialist communications input to ensure that accurate and timely messages reached key stakeholders, including other statutory bodies, the public, the local voluntary sector and NHS staff. Uncertainly over the severity of the outbreak meant that rapid response and flexibility needed to be built into communications plans. A particular concern centred on staff uptake of vaccinations, which historically had been very poor.
Working as a member of the cross-agency Hillingdon Pandemic Flu Silver Command, Stuart Notholt took the lead in delivering swine flu communications to stakeholders, providing a one-stop source of authoritative communications advice for the NHS, the local authority, and voluntary and other civil society groups. Stuart wrote the swine flu communications plans for the trust, and went on to deliver it, including hands on delivery of wide range of collateral communications assets.
Positive and widespread coverage was achieved in local media (including front page coverage in the main local newspaper and on local radio). Local governmental and statutory bodies, such as the local Council, emergency and voluntary bodies, were coached to adapt healthcare and other messages for their own needs. An extensive 'grass roots' internal communications programme was initiated. Instead of the 25% uptake of vaccination amongst staff that had been anticipated from previous experience, this resulted in a 70% uptake - the highest of any NHS trust in London.
Helping out at a public swine flu "Street Doctor" information event in West London
The NHS Hillingdon 'FluZone' intranet
Coronavirus graphic attribution:by https://www.scientificanimations.com