THE overstretched NHS trust which ‘let down’ young victims of sexual abuse due to a lack of resources has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds using a public relations firm.

Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for overseeing mental health services across Dorset, has spent nearly £650,000 of taxpayers’ cash using an external PR and marketing firm over the past six years.

Over the current financial year, the trust will spend more than £104,000 on services provided by Southampton-based Grayling PR.

Its total PR and marketing budget for the current year is £177,000, but that does not take into account the salaries of its internal communications staff.

And the woman responsible for its communications strategy, Nicola Plumb, who was employed by the trust in April this year, earns just shy of £100,000 a year – around £30,000 more than the county’s MPs and Police and Crime Commissioner.

Defending the trust’s use of public money on external PR services, Ms Plumb, director for organisational development, participation and corporate affairs at the trust, said it invested in ‘professional communications knowledge’ to free up its clinical leaders to focus on delivering care to patients.

She said: “As a publicly-funded body we have a duty to ensure that local people and our patients, service users, their families and carers know who we are, have the information they need about our services and are able to hold us to account.

“Delivering this duty is one function of the communications team and will include dealing with media queries, publishing patient information, managing digital communications, meeting with councillors, MPs and other partners and taking part in campaigns to promote positive health and well-being.

“None of this is fluffy or spin.

“This is about being open, transparent, inclusive and improving people’s lives.”

Over the past six years the trust has spent between £85,400 and £148,650 a year using Grayling to provide external PR services.

Ms Plumb said: “For a number of years the trust has chosen to secure a communications service from an external partner. This has enabled the organisation to flex its requirements according to changing demand.

“This arrangement is constantly under review to ensure value for money.”

Mid Dorset and North Poole MP Annette Brooke said: “I think the public deserve an explanation as to why so much is being spent on public relations and in what way this is going to assist with care, in particular for patients with mental health conditions.”

  • DORSET NHS Trust says its PR and marketing budget is used for a variety of purposes. In a statement it said: “This budget includes spend on a number of essential health promotion initiatives, such as stop smoking campaigns and chlamydia screening information campaigns. It also accounts for some of the specialist recruitment campaigns needed for harder to fill staffing vacancies. This budget is used to secure expert advice for key areas of business.”

ONE teenager, who attempted to take her own life earlier this year, waited months to see a counsellor from CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) after disclosing she had been abused by her step-father.

Former director at CAMHS, Mike Kelly, who has since taken up a new role at the trust, apologised for ‘letting down’ Lauren and said mental health care in Dorset is significantly underfunded in comparison to other NHS services.

Lauren’s mother Sarah, who has privately funded counselling for herself and her children due to the lack of services available from the NHS, said she was ‘utterly appalled’ to hear how much money the trust had spent using an external PR firm.

She said: “It is bad enough that we have been so let down by CAMHS in providing the right support to our family post-disclosure, but the fact is that we have always been told this is due to lack of staff, resources, funding etc, which now seems a joke.

“How many more children and families could have been helped if money was more wisely spent and directed into actually helping patients, instead of hiring PR people to spin the facts about how much the system is failing people like us?”

Dorset Echo: