Jonathan Street: Healthcare PR expert and author


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The Independent Online

As well as being an award-winning novelist, Jonathan Street earned a deserved reputation as a leading innovator in the development of health service public relations over the past 30 years. He was rare in being admired and respected by both his NHS colleagues and the journalists he tussled with. All who knew him would testify that he never erred from his own mantra: "be clear, concise and truthful".

Street joined the NHS in 1981 and immediately found himself fronting the Harefield heart transplant programme. He built a warm working relationship with Magdi Yacoub, protecting the heart surgeon and his patients from intense national and international press interest, and succeeding in making Harefield a household name.

Street's formal role was Regional Public Relations Officer for NW Thames Regional Health Authority, one of only eight such PRs in the NHS at that time. He had joined a pool of talented individuals in NW Thames who, under the leadership of David Kenny and later Alan Langlands, were encouraged to challenge tried and tested methods of NHS administration and embrace new ideas.

Street was at the forefront of this wave of innovation. He set up the first 24/7 on-call service for harassed health service managers and journalists wishing to access information from the NHS. Later he developed a two-day television/media handling course which became a must-have on the CV of any ambitious NHS manager.

His press handling team soon won plaudits from the London media, particularly specialist medical writers constantly needing expert opinion as well as a clear steer to the best people to talk to. Street was instrumental in the development of PR as a career in the NHS and was a founder of the organisation now known as the Association of Healthcare Communications and Marketing (AHCM). During the 1980s and early '90s he became heavily involved in communicating the sensitive messages around the closure of mental health hospitals around London. He led the PR over the closure of five hospitals in west London, including Westminster and Westminster Children's Hospitals, which were replaced by Chelsea and Westminster in 1993.

The Street office became the place to go to for budding PR health specialists. Graduates from his team work as leading communicators in the Department of Health and several leading NHS Trusts.

In 1995, after 14 successful years "in house", Street set up Jonathan Street Public Relations, which thrived. Street himself specialised in crisis management for those organisations facing the anticipated media firestorms following major court hearings; he was behind the scenes at the inevitable press conferences following the convictions of Beverley Allitt, Harold Shipman and Rose West. For the same reasons he was man to go to for mental health trusts subject to independent reviews following homicides.

Street also fronted the NHS response to bombings and rail crashes in London. Outside the capital he co-ordinated the media response during the Alder Hey Hospital children's body-parts furore and was the PR handler for a 62-year-old child psychiatrist when she became the UK's oldest woman to give birth. Street's clear and crisp writing style was evident in a number of major NHS strategic documents, not least in his collaboration with Professor Sir Ara Darzi in 2007 which resulted in A Framework for Action, which remains the blueprint for change in London's health services.

The son of a diplomat, Street was educated at Tonbridge School. His great-grandfather was the architect George Edmund Street, who designed the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. In 1961 he joined the editorial team as a junior reporter on the Kentish Times and throughout the 1960s he was an active member of the CND.

He moved to Lewisham in South-east London, where he became a senior PR officer for the local council, a post he held until joining the NHS. He was also a prize-winning author, writing two novels: Rebarbative was published in 1969, while in 1973 he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his novel Prudence Dictates: A Comic Tale. He died peacefully after a short illness brought on by complications following a fall at his home.

Mark Purcell

Jonathan Street, author and public relations executive: born 9 February 1943; married firstly Cynthia Taylor (died 2006; two stepdaughters and one stepson), 2011 Susan Castillo (one stepdaughter and one stepson); died 1 November 2012.