SWANSEA Bay University Health Board racked up a £225,524 bill last year on consultants for  communications and engagement work.

The Health Board,  which has its own communications team, said the expenditure included work on a formal public engagement exercise ahead of a major reshaping of hospital services.

Such work, it said, wasn’t directly linked to the in-house communications team.

The figure was provided in a response to a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. No external consultants were used in the previous two years.

The health board said it currently employed seven full-time communications staff, one part-time, and one on a 12-month full-time contract. The team, it said, was the smallest in terms of its “peer” health boards in Wales – but there are plans to expand it.

The salaries for the team totalled £300,723 in 2021-22, and £277,116 the previous year.

Communications staff responsibilities include keeping patients, staff and the public aware of developments, promoting public health programmes, responding to media enquiries, managing the health board’s website and social media platforms, and supporting recruitment and retention.

The response said: “Internal communications make up a large part of this portfolio, keeping staff up to date with briefings and intranet updates amongst others.”

In March, the health board approved a plan to improve how it communicated and engaged with audiences.

The idea is to gain extra insight into what patients and staff feel, and how the public feels about it – thereby helping the organisation become more focused on patients.

Additional staff are required for the new directorate of insight, communications and engagement which will be established, including a director of communications and engagement, head of insight, and additional communications team members.

The report before the health board, which set out the case for the investment, said communication and engagement resources were underdeveloped and lacked strategic purpose. The new directorate is set to be built up over three years.

The health board covers Swansea and Neath Port Talbot and has nearly 12,500 employees, including agency staff and specialist trainees, according to the 2021-22 accounts. Its wage bill was £677.5m, just under half of its £1.4bn total expenditure.

Audit Wales said last month that Swansea Bay and neighbouring Hywel Dda University University Health Board had both failed a duty to break even over three years and also in-year with deficits of around £24m and £25m respectively.

Auditor General Adrian Crompton said the financial position of NHS Wales remained “extremely challenging” despite considerable funding being made available to support the response to the Covid pandemic.

He added:

“The pressures on NHS Wales continue as it shifts to recovery mode and responds to new cost and demand pressures including the significant backlog of planned care.”

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