The Big News This Summer

You are forgiven if you missed the big news of the summer what with various sporting events and so on. Fairy Liquid has been toppled from its perch by the kitchen sink as the king?/queen? of washing up liquids. I have been following its fortunes closely since I was on the road as a Lever Brothers sales rep trying desperately to assure some sceptical supermarket manager that our washing up liquid was just as good – in fact miles better than P&G’s green liquid. No sale. The washing up brand team was closeted for hours with the crème de la crème of Port Sunlight chemists, perfumers and packaging experts to try and knock it down. Never managed it. And now comes the news that it has been beaten by Aldi Magnum Premium Original @69p! A famous German victory where one 2ml squirt can wash 47 greasy plates, which means you can wash an impressive 11,750 plates per bottle while Fairy Liquid can only manage a measly 42 plates per 2ml squirt. That’s around 9,093 per bottle. But you still can’t get that tune out of your head can you? All together now …mild Green Fairy liquid (dying fall) and dreams of Nanette Newman.

Branding is all the rage even in the public sector. I read one the other day which talked about warmth and good stuff that plucked user heart strings with the conclusion being the construction of a brand that ‘doesn’t talk at you, it talks with you’. Meaning? It is all too easy to mock brand gurus but it is not all nonsense. My favourite definition of the brand is that ‘it is the promise of an experience’ – ie it is a indicator of predictability.

The NHS Brand

The NHS is taking branding very seriously. Roy Lilley’s keyboard is melting he tells us in his newsletter as a result of his fury on spotting  the job ad for the Head of NHS Brand – to be paid between £77 and 97k to do good stuff like being responsible “for ensuring that the NHS brand values are at the heart of the work of the NHS Commissioning Board and the new clinical commissioning system.”

Branding in Action

I had a chance to see the NHS brand values in action the other day when I went along to the AGM of my local hospital – King’s College Foundation Trust. To encourage attendance, on offer were a blood pressure test, a blood glucose check and your BMI figure. This pop-up clinic only existed for an hour but in its brief existence it managed to demonstrate how the NHS works – for good and bad. Briefly people with good intentions offered a service whose provision drew on the good will of staff who turned up to man the positions – a service which was quickly overwhelmed by queues of consumers waiting patiently to have their blood pressure taken or their BMI assessed. The exception was the blood glucose team who were there in quantity administering one simple test which was less popular because who wants to get their fingers jabbed, never mind finding out you have diabetes?  The blood pressure team had evolved a theoretically good system which took account of the fact that some people needed to be taken aside after the test to get some serious advice which of course had the consequence of a shortage of people to man the blood pressure machine – NHS passers by were then roped in to help.


Good intentions created an unexpected level of demand putting pressure on a poorly designed process. Patients played their part – why did they jump so enthusiastically at this chance to get information which they should share with their  GP as a matter of routine? ‘Oh I did not want to bother them’ said the group of over 50’s. So what were the values of the NHS brand exhibited here – a good offer that encompassed good standard of clinical behaviour but poor management of delivery but hey not to worry – it was all OK because they muddled through thanks to staff stepping in to give a hand. No one seemed to mind particularly and the AGM will no doubt go down as a successful event put on by a successful Foundation Trust.

From Muddling to Murderous

This is a far cry from the Mid Staffs enquiry where Robert Francis QC is on record as talking about a tsunami of anger as a result of unnecessary patient deaths which have a capacity to taint the NHS brand rendering it toxic. What caused this? We will get Francis’s answer eventually. The report has been pushed back to January 2013 (so as not to spoil the nation’s Christmas? It is going to say some things which will be very hard to hear for us all I imagine). The question for us all to think about is ‘what is the distance between success and failure in the NHS?’ We have heard wolf being cried so often about the imminent collapse of the NHS and associated health and social care services. Where is the tipping point between a service where most are confident of good care and one where the reputation is so poor that we fear for our lives when forced to use it? What help will the new organisations to give voice and influence to patients be?

The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive health, care and education organisations. We are ready to work with and support all those who want to make sense and a success of the new structures of patient and public engagement within the new arrangements for health and social care commissioning and providing. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.


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