Posted: 12 Mar. 2015 7 min. read

NHS Change Day – how social media took a simple idea to help transform healthcare

Yesterday, March 11, 2015, marked this year’s NHS Change Day.i The third such event since its inception in 2013. Few people working in the NHS can have missed this impressive social movement which appears to have caught the imagination and commitment of staff at all levels. A movement which uses social media to give frontline staff, carers, patients and families a voice and permission to make change happen. At its simplest, it’s about individuals making a public pledge to improve care in their field or area of expertise but its potential lies in its ability to galvanise staff to take control and become part of a social movement that transforms ways of working across the NHS and social care. 

The movement started as a Twitter conversation between a junior doctor, a trainee GP and the chief transformation officer of NHS Improving Quality; which soon snowballed. While Twitter, launched in 2006, is arguably the movements prime communication channel, the unanticipated success of National Change Day is due to the use of a wide range of social media platforms and tools.

The first Change Day in March 2013, used four social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Podbean. It resulted in more than 189,000 pledges from people wanting to change healthcare for the better, and at the time, exceeded expectations. In 2014, the number of communication platforms expanded to include sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, WhatsApp and Vimeo and by the end of the 2014 project, Change Day had attracted 702,132 online pledges from across the NHS. Following feedback from participants and others across the NHS, this year’s event is using even more communication platforms and importantly, promoting the concept of “taking action” instead of “making a pledge”.

Coordination of the day, the days before and after the event, is managed by volunteers, known as ‘Hubbies’, who are a group of non-hierarchal volunteer coordinators, from every part of the NHS. Anyone can sign up for the role which requires them to set up campaigns, speak across their regions and organisations, and set an example through taking action themselves. Previous actions include:

  • the manager who now spends weekends doing shifts as a voluntary health care assistant 
  • patients working to become co-creators of their own care 
  • the consultant trying to identify sepsis in children earlier
  • the nurse who simply wants to spend more time with patients; 
  • the voluntary worker raising awareness of and improving the quality of care for patients with dementia.

All of the above pledges have one thing in common, they all aim to make a difference. They also last for more than just a day and, in taking root, overcome traditional communication channels, hierarchies and silos. 

The sheer scale of staff engagement in NHS Change day initially took many policy makers by surprise but now many are active participants and few doubt that this would have been possible without social media. Indeed, social media is a true leveler of hierarchies, allowing trainees and the most junior members of staff to engage directly with those at the top of their professional or management tree. As a result everyone gets an opportunity to play their part in improving care.

NHS England has described Change Day as a Communitarian strategy or the adoption of a distinctive approach to social media. Indeed, social media has provided a unique, economical and easy way to share a high quality, depth and breadth of material and content, in various forms, from a tweet to a video.ii

While social media is clearly the key to National Change Day, it is also fast becoming a key element in the information revolution that is essential for the successful transformation of the NHS. Four out of five NHS organisations now use at least one form of social media as part of their official communications and engagement channels. Yet for most healthcare organisations, the use of social media is still in its infancy, however the appetite for engagement and willingness to learn how to make the best use of social media, is increasingly evident. Indeed NHS organisations have no choice but accept the key role now played by social media, which has become an essential part of people’s everyday lives (including patients and staff) and, for many, is now the preferred channel for communicating and sharing information.iii

An increasing body of research shows that people are most at risk of work related stress when they experience a lack of control; what NHS Change Day is doing, is placing control where it belongs, with the staff and patients themselves. In doing so it is generating an enthusiasm and commitment to improve things for the good of others. Importantly, these changes are not just for one day, but have the potential to be a lasting change. With the change in emphasis in 2015, to focus more on actions not pledges, the scene is set to start to transform the NHS from the ground up. No one needs to wait to be invited to contribute but everyone’s contribution will be seen and acted on.


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Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor


Karen is the Research Director of the Centre for Health Solutions. She supports the Healthcare and Life Sciences practice by driving independent and objective business research and analysis into key industry challenges and associated solutions; generating evidence based insights and points of view on issues from pharmaceuticals and technology innovation to healthcare management and reform. Karen also produces a weekly blog on topical issues facing the healthcare and life science industries.