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Friday 15 December 2017

How to talk to MPs about your work

By James Noble

Following MiP's successful parliamentary reception in October, James Noble offers ten tips to help you get your story and MiP's message across to your MP.

Tipster - How to talk to MPs about your work

1. Treat MPs as human beings

There's nothing odd about MPs. Just like you, they're human beings doing an often-difficult job. You don't have to call them Sir or Madam and you don't have to curtsey or bow. Don't be nervous: they are your representatives in parliament, whether you voted for them or not, and it's their job to listen to you.

2. Give the local picture

Most MPs will know about headline NHS issues and will quote national statistics that support their party's position. But they probably know a lot less about the local picture. Talk about what's actually going on in your hospital or organisation and how it affects your work. The NHS is always a big election issue locally, so get their attention by telling them something they don't know about how national policies affect staff and patients in their constituency.

3. Be direct but polite

You probably won't have much time with your MP, so be direct and get your points across as crisply as possible. But stay polite, even if your MP is unsupportive. Labour and SNP MPs are more likely to be sympathetic to trade union concerns, but won't always be supportive towards managers. Conservative MPs are more likely to listen to concerns about government policies if you can give examples of how they affect your local services.

4. Talk about MiP

Always explain what MiP is when you meet MPs. Emphasise that MiP is committed to working in partnership with employers, politicians and other unions to improve the NHS. Encourage them to use MiP to find out more about managers' work and what's happening in the NHS on the ground, and suggest they get in touch with MiP head office or meet with you and your colleagues locally.

5. Talk about funding

Explain why we need to devote more of our national resources to the NHS. Ask why British people deserve to have less spent on their healthcare than people in France or Germany. If we raised healthcare spending to the same level as those countries – around 11% of GDP – the NHS would have another £23bn to spend. Many MPs will not know this.

6. Talk about how we use NHS resources

Tell your MP that MiP is fully committed to making the best use of the money we already spend on the NHS. Ask them to support managers who are managing change locally and working to deliver government policies on integration, community care and mental health. But emphasise that transforming local services requires investment and time.

7. Talk about NHS staff

Tell your MP about staff shortages at your organisation and how they affect patient services. Don't be afraid to talk about pay: emphasise that all NHS staff, including managers, deserve a proper pay rise after years of falling living standards. And tell them about MiP's long-standing support for a better deal for the low-paid and unqualified staff who deliver most health and social care.

8. Talk about good management

Ask your MP to publicly respect and value managers as a vital part of the healthcare team, and to repudiate derogatory terms like "pen pushers" and "fat cats". Make sure they understand that only 3-4% of NHS staff are managers, compared to 15% of UK workers as a whole. Ask them: with everything that's going on, do you really think the NHS needs less skilled management?

9. Talk about your job

Tell your MP about your work looking after scarce NHS resources and planning essential services. Talk about being on-call, about the improvements and innovations you've introduced and the money you've saved. Talk about how difficult it is to redesign services with no money and little support from politicians.

10. Ask MPs to do something

If your MP is supportive, ask them to table a parliamentary question or talk to health ministers or shadow ministers in the tea room or around Westminster. Suggest they sponsor an Early Day Motion or provide a press quote in support of the work of NHS managers. Invite them to a round table discussion with your colleagues – most MPs visit local hospitals regularly, but ask when they last met the people managing healthcare in their constituency.

James Noble is an associate director of Connect Public Affairs and an adviser to MiP.

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