The NHS National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT) has appointed communications consultancy giant Porter Novelli, part of the global marketing conglomerate Omnicom, to help deliver staff and public information campaigns about the NHS Care Records Service (CRS).

Porter Novelli, one of the top seven PR agencies internationally, will help to deliver public information campaigns about NHS CRS, with a focus on communicating to patients how electronic health records will affect them, what the provisions for confidentiality and privacy will be and their right to “opt out".  

According to the national programme local public information programmes using a range of approaches will inform people before the care record service goes “live" in their area.  The firm will work alongside NPfIT’s existing communications teams to deliver to deliver the communications programme over the next two years as CRS begins to be rolled out.

“A major part of Porter Novelli’s work will also be focused on internal communications to ensure NHS staff have the information and knowledge they need to discuss the issue with patients," said the national programme.  The new PR and communications work will be carried out from Leeds.

A spokesperson for NPfIT told E-Health Insider that “the contract is expected to be worth a substantial six figure sum, but it is not possible to be precise until the elements of the communication programme have been finalised."

Last week’s National Audit Office report on the late-running Choose and Book project highlighted poor DH and NPfIT communications with clinicians as a major contributory factor in clinician’s reluctance to use the national electronic booking system.  Richard Granger NHS IT director general has maintained that a great deal of communication and consultation has been carried out but acknowledges that NPfIT needs to improve its communication with NHS staff.

Porter Novelli has a strong track record in health and proven record of marketing to clinicians, existing UK healthcare clients include: the DH and pharmaceutical firms GSK, Pfizer and Sanofi.  Other UK clients include BAE Systems, Kraft Foods, McDonalds and Royal Mail.  NPfIT confirmed to EHI that the contract was awarded through competitive tender through the Department of Health communications roster.

NPfIT Director of Communications, James Herbert said: “Porter Novelli bring wide experience of this kind of public sector brief and we are looking forward to having their support on this work which is central to the success of the National programme for IT."

Porter Novelli’s managing director, Fiona Joyce said: “It is critical that people understand the potential of the electronic health record and their rights with regard to it."

NPgIt said the first campaign is due to begin this spring: “Planning is underway now but the first public communications campaign is likely to be in the summer of 2005 and the first NHS communications campaign is likely to be from the spring of 2005."