Comms profile: Laura Skaife-Knight

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Laura Skaife Knight

Laura is the director of communications and external relations at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, one of the biggest acute trusts in England. In this profile she shares what's on her busy to-do list, the trust's approach to social media and the top tips she has picked up from colleagues during her career.

How long have you worked in the NHS/ health and care?

I’ve worked for the NHS for 13 years, starting as communications officer at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in 2004, then as communications manager in 2005/06 and on to media manager at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH). I then worked as head of communications at Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and for the last nine years as associate director, and now director, of communications at NUH. My career journey proves if you work hard and have an appetite to learn (including from your own mistakes and from others), you can do anything you want to do.  

What’s top of your to-do list today?

  • Final preparation for a major patient recall exercise that will attract national media interest involving a doctor who was involved in patients’ surgery who has since had a positive HIV diagnosis.
  • Sending out letters to approximately 40 external stakeholders as we begin an external stakeholder perception audit to be completed by June.
  • MAJAX (major incident) refresher training with our emergency planning team and comms team.
  • Shortlisting for a communications and events officer. 
  • Preparing for my first meeting with our incoming chair.

Sum up your approach to comms in 140 characters or less.

Anticipate, keep it simple, learn from your mistakes, create headspace for thinking, invest in your team. Above all, it’s all about relationships.

Which campaign – inside or outside of the NHS – has most inspired you, and why?

The missing type campaign, launched during National Blood Week 2015. It was so simple in concept, organic and not meticulously planned, something most people can relate to and has had global success.

Social media at work – best thing since sliced bread or one more thing to worry about?

The best thing since sliced bread because it’s an important communications and engagement tool for patients, partners and staff. NUH was one of the first trusts in the country to open up social media access to staff so that they can access it in work time and from work computers. It was the best decision we ever made, supported of course by a policy and appropriate training and support for staff.

What one thing would make your job easier?

People talking more and resorting to email less.

Where/ when do you have your best ideas?

Mostly when I’m driving and/or when I’m out running and have more head space to think and reflect on the day that’s just gone or the coming days, weeks and months.

Your work – what’s coming up next?

Loads of exciting yet challenging stuff, including:

  • Developing a new strategic narrative for the future of Nottingham’s Hospitals so that our patients and people know where we are going over the next 5-10 years.
  • Three big leadership changes at NUH – new chair, medical director and CEO – which will bring new opportunities and new ways of doing comms 
  • Three significant pieces of work – an internal comms audit, an external stakeholder perception audit and a comms team review, which will influence the future communications and engagement strategy for the trust and ensure we have a comms team that is fit for purpose for the future. 
  • Contributing as fulsomely as possible to the delivery of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan.
  • Doing ever more to support our people. Our staff survey results tell us rewarding and recognising our staff has never been so important, so we need to do something about it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best leaders and communications professionals. Here's a selection of their pearls of wisdom that I draw on regularly:

  • Employ people more capable than yourself.
  • You live life forwards and understand it backwards.
  • If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get the same results.
  • You can be anything you want to be, with the right attitude and a bit of luck along the way.

From WhatsApp to augmented reality - what’s the next big thing in comms?

An even greater use of video and multi-media - we need teams equipped to respond to this.

Also, a more wholesale shift to generalist comms, blurring the lines between internal, external and external comms, and an ever greater focus on system comms. The currency in the NHS is ‘system’ not individual organisations, so comms teams that make up the ‘system’ need to be ready to respond to this, which means being open to different ways of working.

Follow Laura and NUH on Twitter.

Do you know another NHS comms professional who deserves to be in the spotlight to share their comms work? Nominate them by emailing comms@nhsemployers.org.

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