NHS Reforms – a case for brand

NHS Reforms – a case for brand

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley reiterates today that the “buck stops with him” – fine. What he also must remember is that the brand starts with him too. The strongest brands start from the inside out and from the top. The NHS provides care – their whole essence revolves around the concept of “duty of care”. To their patients. To their communities. To their staff. Unfortunately, in these tough times, the NHS essence is being handed over to administrators and politicians who’s emit a “duty of cost” attitude.

I love the NHS – indeed I live because of the NHS. I love brands and live in branding. The NHS is in need of a brand and is indeed a brand in need, now more than ever. The NHS is a remarkable institution. The UK’s biggest employer. The largest single payer healthcare system in the world. An annual budget north of £100BN. In the 56 years since Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS, it has become the envy of the world’s healthcare providers with the regular slip ups during times of repression and Government changes.

Like now.

In times of crisis, the brave seize the opportunity for change. As Rahm Emanuel said to Senator Obama a few years back “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” One of those opportunities is to change the NHS brand. Or more precisely, the role of brand in the NHS.

Branding has moved on since the NHS last addressed big changes to its brand. In 1999, the NHS brand as we know it was created and a massive piece of identity work was successfully created. The brand guidelines are a smart piece of work, and still deliver the objectives set for them in the 20th Century. Take a look http://www.nhsidentity.nhs.uk/
Then brand guidelines were about control. Control is about policing all aspects of the NHS identity, communication and image so that they conform to the agreed look and feel. The most obvious shift is that brand is not simply about the identity or logo. It’s not about messages and campaigns either. Brand reflects the role of a service to its customers – to its patients/communities/staff. Controlling an identity is easier than earning a role and providing a “care” experience – but the expectation of care is already there. NHS care is ingrained in our national psyche – and the residual value is a positive one. However that value is more significantly affected by negative impact – by those who experience a disappointment or uncaring service – than by those who have their positive experience reinforced. In our interconnected world, these below expectation experiences are shared immediately with people’s social networks and media fuelled negativity pick up on it.

Andrew Lansley understands this – “Too often, we deny the experience of patients and their family members who have been at the sharp end of appalling treatment,” Mr Lansley will say today. “Where there is great care, we will celebrate it. But wherever there are pockets of poor performance, we will root it out.”

NHS experience by those you interact with – nurses, surgery receptionists, surgeons, Victorian hallways, the reassurance on the end of the NHS Direct phone, the exhausted junior doctor, the optician, the dentist et al.

Reinstituting “care” into the NHS Brand – into the NHS experience must start with these people who are the face of the NHS – not with a marketing department, an advertising agency or a civil service team. It will need to start small, in a beta test(s) – and seed the success out slowly, learn, tweak, share, celebrate. These are not expensive actions, but these actions are vital.

With that positive pebble, the ripples will spread quickly as NHS care is more important than NHS budgets or NHS headcount or NHS guidelines. The focus of the politicians and administrators is about cost still. Of course there is inefficiency in the NHS (remember Gerry Robinson’s program trying to fix the NHS http://tinyurl.com/6ewjk9b ) but that can divert from the case for brand. Health professionals want to provide the best care. Fact. Inefficiency frustrates them to an extent where management /administrators and their relationship with the doctors and nurses becomes the focus.

If the NHS brand is to reflect the care experience, all elements of the brand must support the role of the NHS in the lives of their communities, their patents and their staff. So is it time for the NHS brand to be owned by their communities, their patients and their staff rather than being outsourced to civil servants and their agencies?

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