Dew Gibbons + Partners




Picture the scene: a panoramic view of London from your window, private bathroom, personal audio-visual system and climate control, separate lounge area, freshly changed linen, limited edition prints on the walls, dedicated team of staff on-call at the touch of a button…

A five-star hotel, surely? Unhappily not. This was the paediatric ward at an NHS hospital in London, where my youngest daughter stayed for 10 days last month with an indeterminable critical illness. Five years to the week after she’d been delivered there.

No one wants to be in hospital. The ideal scenario is once at birth – your own, your children, and grandchildren – and then never again, with a peaceful late death at home. Of course the real world doesn’t work like that. And so our family was thrown headlong into ward life and got to see the NHS very close up indeed.

I cannot praise it enough. The sheer level of service we received over and above her medical treatment was incredible. So incredible, in fact, that I still can’t quite believe that it was entirely free at the point of need.

We had comfortable beds for parents in the same room, a well-stocked cheery playroom, and teachers and a classroom for those able to be in lessons. The food wasn’t gourmet, but there was a huge amount of choice to tempt little appetites. We had nurses who started off as kind professionals and ended up as friends. We had consultants who shared their knowledge and experience with us, gaining our trust by honestly saying they were also in the dark as to the problem, but would strain every sinew to solve it.

Of course, my daughter was in a children’s ward, which you’d expect to be incredibly well-tended. But my friends, family, and colleagues concur that it’s true in general. When the NHS was created in 1948, Aneurin Bevan could never have imagined that bedside personal entertainment systems would be a given for a stay in hospital – they’re not even standard in an average hotel these days! And this is in a system that deals with 1 million people in every 36 hours – that’s nearly 250 million customers a year.

Consider there are 1.6 million staff (including internationally-renowned specialists, nurses, researchers, and technicians) with a £116 billion budget, and compare this to Wal-Mart’s 2.2 million staff and revenues of £314 billion. It becomes clear that the NHS punches hugely above its weight in terms of performance delivery. But you certainly wouldn’t know that from the media coverage. All the great stuff can get overlooked by consumers in all that negative noise: the regular IPSOS Mori official NHS perception polling always shows that people who’ve used the service recently are far more positive than those that haven’t in a while.

I spend my days with clients who are there to fix a brand problem, often the product or company is misunderstood and undervalued – sometimes quite unreasonably. And the NHS brand, one of this country’s most majestic institutions, has exactly that same challenge.

So what can we do about it?

Apart from ensuring that the service is well-defended through our personal political actions, we can all act as the NHS’ brand agency. Every time we use the system and get special care and consideration from staff, we can shout about it. Every time things go smoothly from start to finish, we can shout about it to counteract the negative voices in the media who highlight every time it doesn’t. Every time there’s a good news story, we should shout about it. If we don’t shout about it, those that say that the NHS isn’t working and its role should be diminished will win the argument.

Consider this my shout.