50 NHS winter pressure campaign ideas

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As we the weather starts to turn, the NHS is preparing for another season of increased demand. We know that under-pressure communications managers and marketing executives will be asked to come up with campaign ideas, PR concepts, and social strategies that will cut through the noise and connect with patients – and we’re here to help.

In this article, we’ve pulled together 50 ways that NHS organisations can improve their communications, content, and website performance this winter. OK, so you’re likely to be doing a lot of this already, but if at least one of these campaign ideas helps you, then it’s worth the time you’ll spend reading this blog. 

Where have these ideas come from? At 42group, we’re healthcare digital marketing experts with over 20 years’ of experience working with the NHS, third sector, healthcare providers, and pharma companies. While we’re not going to give away all our secrets, here are 50 ways you can improve your communications and campaigns this winter.

Winter pressures campaign ideas

We know (from experience) that there’s likely to be a national NHS campaign with shared resources, messages, and creatives. That’s overwhelmingly positive, and every comms manager should stick to the brand guidelines, but you’ll also have the freedom to work with your own population and patient groups to create a campaign with impact. 

Here are (checks notes) 24 NHS winter pressures campaign ideas to help you connect with your audience:

  1. Build social media campaigns around a hashtag with meaning: Launch a hashtag campaign (e.g., #WinterWellness) to share tips on staying healthy and avoiding unnecessary ED visits. 
  2. Bring content to life using Canva: Use Canva to create infographics and short videos to explain when to use ED/A&E compared to other services like urgent care or GP out-of-hours. Be creative and develop materials that support national marketing materials.
  3. Build your email newsletter: Send out regular newsletters to patients with updates on service availability, wait times, and alternative options for non-emergency care. You can work with third-sector organisations to share information and extend your reach. Base content around your hashtag and campaign.
  4. Create an educational video series: If you’ve got an iPhone or modern Android phone, you’ve got a TV studio in your pocket. Why not produce a series of videos featuring healthcare professionals discussing how to manage common winter ailments at home? Host them on YouTube and share on social media to increase your reach.
  5. Website updates: Have a dedicated winter care section on your NHS website with live updates, advice, and FAQs. Update this every day with status information and advice for patients and people visiting healthcare settings.
  6. Host virtual Q&A sessions: Host live webinars or Q&A sessions with doctors and nurses to answer common concerns and educate on appropriate ED use. This can all be done with free software and a mobile phone mount. 
  7. Push to the third sector: Collaborate with local charities, faith groups, community centres, and pharmacies to distribute flyers and posters with information on accessing healthcare services during winter. While most will be mandated to do this, engaging them personally is a great way to make a positive impact.
  8. Engage in-app notifications: For those registered with NHS apps, send push notifications with tips on staying healthy and updates on service pressures. Work with GPs to see if they can share crucial messages with their patients if/when winter pressures escalate.
  9. Establish local radio and newspaper partnerships: The death of local media has been overstated! If you’ve got great content, establish partnerships with local media to broadcast, publish, and promote messages about ED usage and alternative healthcare options during peak times. Don’t just send a press release; be sure to hit the phones and connect with journalists. Share case studies and patient stories to get the biggest impact.
  10. Interactive online tools: This will require some investment, but you can create an online symptom checker to guide patients to the most appropriate service for their needs. Alternatively, you can promote existing resources that patients might find useful. In Bristol, that’s the amazing HANDI app, which you can download here.
  11. Text messaging partnerships: Use SMS updates to inform patients about peak times, vaccine reminders, and tips for self-care during the winter months. While most of us are using Whatsapp and other messaging platforms, some of your core audience prefer traditional channels, so use them.
  12. Influencer partnerships: Engage local celebrities or influencers to spread awareness about the appropriate use of ED services during winter. When we talk about celebrities, we’re not talking about Kardashian-level influencers, but the cast of your local panto, sports teams, or radio and TV presenters can help boost your messaging.
  13. Patient advocacy collaboration: Work with patient advocacy groups to co-create materials that speak directly to patient experiences and concerns. Using genuine patient voices can amplify every campaign and bring it to life in a way that creatives generated by an agency just can’t.
  14. Staff training: Ensure all staff are trained to provide consistent messaging about winter pressures and service options. Provide staff with some key messages about how to talk about winter pressures where people can access information and support.
  15. Social media waiting room boards: Use social media channels to show real-time information about wait times and alternative care options. This has long been the dream for NHS comms, and while it can’t be entirely accurate, you can provide people with a feel for how the A&E department is functioning.
  16. Interactive workshops: Get out there and meet the people! Hold workshops in community centres teaching practical health skills, like basic first aid and when to seek medical help. There’s an investment here, but you can use the opportunity to capture social content, create videos, and capture case studies.
  17. School programmes: Access the incredible potential of pester power! Partner with schools to educate children and parents on winter health risks and the correct use of healthcare services. You can supply information to schools about how to keep safe and how and when to access emergency services.
  18. Public transport advertising: You’re going to need some cash for this (and it may already be part of the overall marketing plan for your area), but placing informative ads on buses, trains, and in stations about accessing the right care at the right time can have a real impact. Make ads simple with a single message and CTA. Don’t overcomplicate things. 
  19. Encourage employee advocacy: Support staff to share accurate information within their social circles, both online and in person. The reach of this can be massive, with many of us in social groups that cover cities and towns.
  20. Create local healthcare service maps: We always assume people know where to go for treatment, but tourists, travellers, and those new to a city (like students) may not and defer to A&E. Distribute maps that show the locations of alternative services to the ED, like walk-in centres and urgent care clinics.
  21. Build partnerships with local businesses: Work with local businesses to include health service information in their establishments and on shopping bags, receipts, etc.
  22. Engage high-risk groups: Develop targeted messages for elderly or at-risk populations, possibly in collaboration with organisations and charities that serve them.
  23. Frequent myth-busting posts: Address common misconceptions about the ED and healthcare services during winter on all communication channels. Use your blog or news section to host posts and promote them across all your social channels to maximise reach. Be sure to recycle posts regularly to give them the best chance of reaching patients and local people.
  24. Create multi-language materials: Ensure all materials are available in the languages most commonly spoken in the community. Work with faith groups, local leaders, and other influential figures in local communities to build relationships and share messaging.

Website optimisation & SEO for winter pressure campaigns

The NHS hasn’t always been the best at maximising its assets and extending its reach to the population through SEO. But things are changing, and that’s highly positive. Here are 14 ways you can improve your processes to engage patients and local people from the Google Partner team at 42group.

  1. Build a dedicated winter health hub: Create a specific section or microsite focused on winter health advice, which can be frequently updated to stay relevant and authoritative in search engines. Make it hyper-local to avoid clashing with existing national resources or materials. Be sure to link this to your social campaign and hashtags.
  2. Create regular seasonal blog posts: Publish regular blog content addressing common winter health concerns, offering prevention tips, and information on when to seek medical help. Use relevant keywords to improve search rankings. Aim to write posts with authority, of around 2000 words or more. Focus on specific advice, mention local services, and help people make the best choices.
  3. Local SEO optimisation: Ensure local listings are updated with winter service hours and information so patients can find the correct information quickly via local search. You can post blogs on Google My Business, too, which can increase search relevance and engage those people searching for your services.
  4. Landing pages: Develop landing pages for common winter conditions, such as flu or colds, optimised for keywords related to symptoms and treatments. These can be very specific (Where to get treated for a cold in Bristol, etc.). Need some inspiration? Use Google Keyword Planner to identify common search terms, or crowdsource through social media (or do both).
  5. Build an FAQ section for winter ailments: A comprehensive FAQ section addressing common winter concerns can capture a lot of long-tail search queries. It’s also great for your readers too.
  6. Invest in video content: OK, we mentioned this above, but creating informative videos on winter health tips and embed them on your site. Videos appear in search results and can drive traffic, as well as being easier to engage with and understand for some than long-form written content.
  7. Schema markup for events: This is a technical thing, but using schema markup for any winter-related healthcare events or clinics enables search engines to display this information directly in search results. Here’s a helpful guide on how to do this from Google
  8. Voice search optimisation: In 2023 and 2024 you need to optimise content for voice search. How?By including conversational keywords and phrases that people may use when speaking to digital assistants. This is a massive growth area and something you should consider throughout your digital channels.
  9. Service area pages: Create pages that specifically target the regions your healthcare organisation serves, focusing on how your services can address winter pressures in those areas. These could be hyper-local landing pages for specific geographic areas (in Bristol, for example, we could group Clifton and Redland together and create a healthcare guide for local residents).
  10. Build links with local organisations: Collaborate with local health advocacy groups, businesses, and educational institutions to build backlinks to your winter health hub. This is all about improving SEO and building local search volume.
  11. Encourage user-generated content: Source reviews and testimonials from patients about their winter healthcare experiences to create unique, relevant content for your site. Get users to post across social channels and link to your content, landing pages, and health hub.
  12. Embrace analytics and adjustments: Use web analytics to understand how users are interacting with your winter-related content and make continual improvements to optimise the user experience and search visibility. You can check out the pages and content that’s succeeding in search engines and connecting with your audience and produce more of it.
  13. Use PPC to connect with patients: Google Ads (and Facebook Ads) are an effective tool to get your message out to the local population. It costs a fortune, right? Non-profit organisations can access a grant that makes advertising free. Contact us to learn more.

NHS PR campaign ideas for winter

We’ve focused on campaign ideas and SEO optimisation, but traditional PR is still effective in reaching your audience. In fact, during the cold winter nights, most of us are wrapped up under a blanket reading our phones, listening to the radio, or watching TV. Traditional press releases can still work, but you need to get proactive and a little pushy to engage journalists. Here are some proven PR ideas you can use.

  1. Winter preparedness series: Partner with local news outlets for a series of informational segments on preparing for winter health-wise, including how to manage chronic conditions and prevent common illnesses. This is a hard sell, but if you can provide them with content – and connect them with case studies and clinicians – it can work really well.
  2. Celebrity endorsement: Engage a well-known public figure to help communicate the importance of using NHS services wisely during winter. Like we’ve mentioned before, you’re not going to get A-list support, but local press consumes content like this. Sports teams are always open to ideas. Don’t just get a quote and add it to a press release, get your celebrities to share their experiences or to do something quirky or original.
  3. Community healthcare forums: Host educational events in the community discussing health issues prevalent in winter and the appropriate NHS services to use. Bringing local groups together is a great way to generate content and get some press interest.
  4. Healthcare worker profiles: Showcase stories and daily challenges of NHS staff during winter to build empathy and understanding about the pressures on the system. Find staff at all levels who are happy to share their stories about the challenges they face working over winter.
  5. Strategic partnerships: Collaborate with local gyms, supermarkets, and community centres and leverage their reach to extend yours. Find innovative ways to engage local businesses to build a combined campaign that has the power of two press offices.
  6. Social media takeovers: Have healthcare professionals take over your organisation’s social media accounts to share tips and advice on managing health during winter. You can do this as a Q&A or just give them the keys and let them get on with it.
  7. “Myth-busting” campaign: Address common myths around hospital services during winter, such as wait times and availability, with factual information. This is a great way to challenge local media, and get them to share your messages.
  8. School engagement programmes: Develop informational programs for schools to educate children on when to use NHS services and basic winter health tips. This can form the basis of a great media package. Everyone loves seeing kids at Christmas, right?
  9. Corporate wellness partnerships: Work with large employers to share information and resources that can help keep their workforce healthy and reduce the strain on NHS services. How can this work for local media? Why not target big employers or key workers like those at the Post Office or Council? This can double the interest of media organisations who love this sort of thing.
  10. Healthcare professional op-eds: Write opinion pieces from the perspective of NHS staff for local newspapers or health blogs, outlining the importance of responsible service use. We’ve had success in the past with a regular column in a paper where a healthcare professional (in this case, a nurse) provided a weekly column. As well as in print, it appeared online, where it helped to educate and inform all readers.
  11. Winter health challenge: Start a community health challenge focused on preventive measures, like maintaining an active lifestyle and proper nutrition during winter. You could identify a core group and track their progress, providing ongoing interest for the media and your core audience.
  12. Interactive online Q&A sessions: Organise live Q&A sessions with healthcare professionals on social media to answer questions about winter health concerns. This won’t work for TV, but you can ask local radio to feature it or even invite your guests into the studio for a discussion. If there’s one thing local radio loves, it’s an expert Q&A.

42group: Your agency partner for winter pressure campaigns

At 42group, we’ve worked with NHS organisations across the UK, as well as leading charities and third-sector organisations, to help them educate and inform patients and the local population. Our final tip for 2023 is to contact us if you want help with your content, SEO, PPC, or PR. 

Get in touch today, we’re here to help.

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