Is the NHS's National Programme for IT in crisis management mode?

This is from a brochure produced by the public relations company Bell Pottinger on its Issues and Crisis Management service. The contact name on the brochure is Claire Cater, a director of Bell Pottinger, who has been seconded from the company to work on the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT].

Bell Pottinger Group

Issues and Crisis Management

24hr crisis line:

Helping organisations and individuals to prepare, build, manage, manage, recover and protect their reputation.

Contact Claire Cater: [phone number]

24hr contact number: [phone number]

A spokesman for NHS Connecting for Health, which runs the NPfIT, said “absolutely not” when asked if Bell Pottinger has been hired to work on the NPfIT because of its skills in crisis management.

But the fact remains that Cater is depicted in Bell Pottinger’s literature as a specialist in crisis management, and she replaces James Herbert, former Shell International PR executive, who has ceased to be director of communications and stakeholder engagement at Connecting for Health.

Cater is supported by two colleagues from Bell Pottinger who are on full-time secondment to the NPfIT PR team. Connecting for Health also has a full-time PR team based in Leeds.

Cater’s background, and the support of an organisation as impressive as Bell Pottinger, may prove useful to the NPfIT. When it comes to crisis management there can be few companies with more experience than Bell Pottinger.

Its 18-page crisis management brochure, which carried Cater’s details on page two and again at the end, gives details of some of clients it has worked with:

Russia – international media relations advice during the Chechnyan war

Egg – when it misjudged the volumes of interest at launch and was unable to process customer accounts

Tesco – a similar situation to Egg

Ebay – selling firearms on the Internet

McDonald’s – responding to childhood obesity

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd – falsification of safety data

Meat and Livestock Commission – restoring faith in eating meat

Coca-Cola – when it faced the Dasani water crisis

But the company’s experience goes beyond even these incidents. The brochure says it has “handled fatalities at work, accidents in the workplace, acts of terrorism and much more.”

It says: “We provide the level of support you need. From simply the best advice to hands-on support. From full service planning , rehearsing, training and backup – to strategic counsel.”

One of the company’s specialities is “strategic reputation recovery” which involves “development and implementation of strategies to rebuild reputation”.

Some may say that the NPfIT is in need of strategic reputation recovery but is Bell Pottinger, in its work for the national programme, yet in crisis management mode? Its PR team seems to want to answer media questions more fully than in the past, and without being adversarial.

Whether, however, PR executives or health officials are any more able than before to tolerate well-informed criticism is hard to tell. Possibly they will endure criticism that suggests the programme needs tweaking but not if it suggests the need for a fundamental reappraisal.

Indeed NHS Connecting for Health says (not in relation to this blog article on Bell Pottinger) that “we welcome constructive and well informed comments. Where we take exception is when they are ill informed, out of date and serve no positive purpose”.

John Stuart Mill said: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”