NHS – Crisis Management

Errors in diagnostic test reports issued by Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s Histopathology Department in 2007 led to patients being informed that tissue samples were all clear when, in fact, they were clinically suspicious and, in some cases, indicated cancer.

NE Wales NHS Trust launched a full review of all relevant cases between April 2006 and September 2007 and commissioned Equinox in 2008 to devise and implement an effective communications plan aimed at disseminating information quickly to concerned patients and all target audiences.

Our Mission

Equinox was also tasked with managing media around the issue while protecting the reputation of the hospital and the Trust.

Our Approach

Equinox became part of the incident team and was given a week to roll out a communications plan which entailed organising a press conference, putting in a phone help line and setting up a website clearly outlining which tests were and were not affected.

We also prepared statements and a media information pack including background information on procedures within the hospital. Equinox worked with the Trust team to ensure that all partner organisations agreed the statement and were advised on the press conference and were prepared to field media queries.

The Trust was advised to invite Mike Harmer, Deputy Medical Officer at the Welsh Assembly Government to attend the press conference to field questions on systemic issues and the impact of the errors.

Finally, Equinox hosted a full run through of the press conference prior to the event and set up a PR resource to respond efficiently to the media, providing three extra members of staff with key areas of responsibility.

The Result

Throughout all media activity, coverage included the help line and key messages from the statement. By holding the press conference promptly and adopting a completely transparent approach, the Trust was represented extremely fairly in all coverage. Many newspapers ran items applauding the Trust on their handling of the issue and the case study was used as an exemplar of how best to handle a crisis at the Health and Social Care Annual Conference in 2008.