Dean Russell: Get the right people round the table and communication gets a lot easier

Partnerships with the right people ease communication, says our columnist

Dean Russell
Dean Russell

Readers of my column over the past four years might have noticed certain themes: first, frustration over unnecessary duplication by government and voluntary organisations; second, annoyance at how organisations from these sectors fail to communicate with each other effectively.

I have preached about these things but it hasn't been possible to do much about them - until now. In my role as a councillor on St Albans City & District Council, I was recently appointed chair of the Community Health Committee, which reviews the effectiveness of local healthcare.

I was excited to take on the role, especially against the backdrop of the changing health landscape.

Making localism a reality

One of the main challenges of the NHS reforms is the government urging people to do more to make 'localism' a reality. Councils, in particular, are being asked to take on greater responsibilities for local health.

However, unlike county councils, district councils don't have many real powers for health so it is difficult to make the things that get discussed at meetings actually happen.

And, in true local government style, we also had a second committee called the Healthier Communities and Older Peoples Partnership, which was made up of NHS and health bodies. It covered similar issues to my committee - a classic example of the kind of duplication I abhor.

So I have worked with council staff, fellow councillors and health organisations in recent months to merge the two committees into a single Health and Wellbeing Partnership.

The purpose is to bring people together to discuss issues that matter to residents in my district. The partnership will not include only NHS and council members - it will also include voluntary sector and patient representatives. Third sector organisations are often on the front line of health service provision, yet often they don't have a voice.

Valuable insights

By its very nature, health is a local issue - a community issue. Voluntary sector organisations are often at the heart of communities and have valuable insights that can get overlooked when red tape and bureaucratic processes are put in the way of effective communication and collaboration.

This is why I hope the partnership will help to create a level playing field - one where councillors, health bodies and voluntary sector organisations work together to solve problems that individual groups could not. Some might call this localism; I call it common sense.

I no longer believe it is good enough to identify problems - we must also try to solve them. I hope other councils and voluntary organisations will follow suit and I will gladly share information about what we have learned from the partnership so that others might also work together to overcome difficulties.

From a communications perspective, this collaboration will enable the council to campaign more effectively on health with a unified voice. Having the right people around one table will also improve another important communications tool - listening. This will provide greater clarity on where everyone stands and ensure residents receive one joined-up message.

By working together, we can be more than the sum of our parts and show the power of communication to bring about change.

Dean Russell is director, digital practice, at Fleishman-Hillard and a Conservative district councillor

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