7. Clear engagement and communications
Timely, clear and consistent public communication will be essential to the prevention and management of any outbreak. This will ensure that those affected or at risk are supported in taking protective actions and that the wider community understands clearly the situation and the nature of the response.
Extensive communications coordination arrangements have been in place in Scotland since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both at a local and national level. These have ensured that health, local government, "blue light" responders and others work together to provide consistent information to the public. These arrangements will continue through the next phase of our response.
Long-standing arrangements exist for informing the public of outbreaks in their area and these will form the foundation of our approach to COVID-19. Following any local outbreak, the relevant NHS Board will lead on public health advice. A communications specialist from the Board will usually be a member of the Incident Management Team and will coordinate local messages regarding public health advice to those affected or at risk.
The Health Board communications lead will work with partners, in particular local authorities, on the communication of second-order impacts and decisions such as the temporary closure of facilities. Full detail on the approach that NHS boards and Health Protection Scotland will take in the event of an outbreak is included within the Management of Public Health Incidents Guidance and the Health Protection Network guidance Communicating with the Public about Health Risks.
This wider partnership work will be coordinated, where necessary, through the existing multi-agency "Public Communications Groups" of the relevant resilience partnership. More information on these arrangements can be found in Warning and Informing, the national crisis communications guidance.
Health Board communications leads will keep the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland closely briefed on any communications related to local outbreaks. If an incident expands to become a regional or national issue, or if the impacts of the outbreak become more complex and wide ranging, the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland will take a more active role in coordinating, supporting and where appropriate leading the public communications.
For any aspects of the response which involve Ministerial decision-making, for example the imposition of "local lockdowns", the Scottish Government will lead on public communications of that decision, again working closely with all relevant partners.
These arrangements will allow for a flexible, coordinated approach to be taken to outbreaks of any number or scale and will build on well-tested structures for collaboration and information sharing already in place between agencies. The shared goal will remain the provision of clear, consistent, factual advice as quickly as possible to those who have been infected, those who have been at increased risk of exposure, and those who are part of the wider community affected by the outbreak.
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