Public relations practices within selected public hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal
Nxumalo, Goodhope Singabakho
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In South Africa, the media coverage and the general perceptions of the public about public hospitals have been pervasively negative and this has resulted in the overshadowing of the good work being done in hospitals. In an effort to overcome these negative perceptions, the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Health has introduced the practice of public relations in public hospitals since 2001. This effort is in line with the National Health Act 2004 (Act No 61 of 2003). The act is described by the Health Systems Trust to rest heavily on the Constitution which, amongst other things, requires the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures to progressively achieve the right of access to health care services, and reproductive health care, within its available resources. The rationale behind the introduction of public relations was that, by managing and influencing the public’s perceptions, public relations professionals in public hospitals would initiate a sequence of behaviours that would contribute towards the achievement of the hospitals’ objectives. However, are relevant stakeholders aware of the presence, the role and the functions of public relations in public hospitals? Based on the above, this study seeks to evaluate public relations practices within selected public hospitals in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. The study is qualitative, cross-sectional and descriptive in nature. Data will be collected through observation, questionnaires and interviews. The findings revealed that a lot more needs to be done by both the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal and hospital CEOs in order to benefit greatly from the practice of public relations in public hospitals as public relations practitioners are under-utilized. Issues of budget constraints, lack of public relations understanding by hospital CEOs are some of the factors impacting negatively the function of public relations in hospitals. It is more of a technical role that public relations practitioners play in public hospitals. This study came to the realisation that not enough attention is given to the practice of public relations in public hospitals. One of the major recommendations is that public relations practitioners should participate in the strategic management processes and be part of the planning process and they should use public relations strategies to build harmony between the hospital and all its external and internal publics. For public hospitals to realise the need and value from the function of public relations, they have to appreciate that the practice of public relations has grown over the years and they have to employ effective public relations practitioners in order to accomplish their goals.