An interesting story appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. It appears that Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, has ordered a ‘re-branding of the NHS’. Advertising agencies will be able to bid for the work this Autumn according to the report.
Why re-brand? The NHS is probably the best loved institution in the country, despite Labour’s frantic drive to dismantle it.
The challenge posed by Johnson, though, is that the NHS brand needs to ‘better reflect the diversity of its services’. My guess is that this is ‘New Labour speak’ meaning ‘to better reflect the diversity of service providers’.
The Government’s intention is that virtually all healthcare will be provided by organisations that are not formally part of the NHS – such as ‘social enterprise’ companies, the voluntary sector, and, increasingly, private sector companies like Virgin and United Health. The Alternative Provider Organisations (APOs), now being set up by many PCTs are intended to be simply a stepping stone on this road.
The commissioner-provider split takes us a long way towards the complete ‘marketisation’ of the NHS. We’re rapidly losing the idea of the NHS as a service provider, and Primary Care Trusts are now being repackaged as organisations that just ‘commission’ healthcare, without having to get their hands dirty by actually providing it. We now also have a grubby little mechanism called ‘Framework for the External Support of Commissioning’ (FESC). This allows the private sector to plan and commission healthcare, as well as providing it. So big business decides what healthcare we’ll get, big business will commission it, and big business will provide it.
My guess is that the re-branding will be intended to embrace this ‘diversity’ and glorify the privatisation. The NHS will be reduced to a logo at the top of appointment letters – but never mind, because it’ll be a beautifully designed logo, and share holders in a multitude of private companies will be doing ever so nicely at our expense. Look out for the increasing use of phrases like ‘the NHS family’ (which actually means private sector masquerading as part of the NHS).
It’s bad enough that the Government intends to privatise us, but wasting money on re-branding just adds insult to injury. Last year Alliance Boots spent £65m rebranding their smaller Boots the Chemist pharmacies as ‘your local Boots pharmacy’. I can’t say I noticed. But if it costs Boots £65m to rebrand one part of their business, how much will be spent on re-branding the NHS, a much larger organisation? I can think of two better uses for the money. Patient care would be one; a decent pay increase for NHS workers would be another.