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Commissioning dilemma: Your health and wellbeing board challenges a decision you have taken to close a hospital dermatology department

Your health and wellbeing board challenges a decision you have taken to close a hospital dermatology department after a row blows up in the media. You firmly support the decision, but are unwilling to see yourself become a media scapegoat. What should you do? Dr Helen Clark explores this dilemma.

The decision to close a service should not be taken lightly, and would ultimately rest with the National Commissioning Board (NCB), not solely with your clinical commissioning group (CCG) or yourself personally, so you needn't fear being the lone ‘media bad boy'.

Ideally, your CCGs communications and engagement strategy would avoid this situation happening in the first place. All commissioning decisions have the potential to be media fodder; therefore each CCG will want to have professional communications expertise sitting around the table to provide advice on how to communicate the decision and mitigate any negative publicity when the decision is made.

There are a number of practical steps you can take to regain control of the situation and put out any flames ignited in the media if your CCG finds itself without a communications and engagement strategy:

·         Contact the NCB, find out if they have been approached by the media, think about releasing a joint statement which highlights that patient care is paramount and a suitable and clinically effective service will exist after the closure.

·         Contact the NHS integrated communications and engagement team who should provide support and advice on how to handle the situation.

Increasingly GP commissioners will find themselves having to make decisions on the delivery of local healthcare needs, some which may not be palatable to everyone. Whatever the situation, you need to think about how to manage your reputation locally with stakeholders and the media. That is why it is paramount to build good working relationships with local community organisations, health and wellbeing boards and your local LMC, who would naturally want to be kept informed of local commissioning decisions.

Dr Helen Clark is a Medical Director at Londonwide LMC