Defining the essence of our new healthcare economy

By Max du Bois, Spencer du Bois 

The NHS identity is sixteen years old. Created in 1999, in a bid to improve recognition and accountability, it certainly has been a great success. But much has changed since then.

For a start our healthcare has improved and moved on, and the current fundamental shift in the healthcare economy requires a different type of brand that performs in this brave new world. In fact we need to go beyond a logo and to the heart of the actual brand, commitment.

This isn’t about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The NHS brand is a powerful icon for all the most positive aspects that it achieves. However, just as it aggregates the positive, it also allows the occasional poorer care element to taint the whole. As a consequence this  one size fits all makes it harder to tell where the pockets of excellence are and easier for the negative to slowly erode the public’s trust and belief.

Part of the NHS’ evolution has resulted in greater choice, a choice which many, from patients to GPs, will base on league tables. Rather than simplify matters however this tends to confuse issues further as most patients don’t fully grasp the subtleties of the NHS or look at how rankings are compiled. The league table system, which only tells part of the story, has become a shorthand that does not offer up the full picture, and which is often caught in the past.

As Trusts evolve, as they join together and set up specialist clinics in each other’s campuses it is becoming crucial for each Trust to carve out its own territory. This is further compounded as specialism becomes increasingly valuable and care integrates with social care and embeds itself in the community.

If Trusts don’t carve out their own niche, as countless other sectors, from education to the charity sector demonstrate, they’ll become faceless and generic. They will become the third or fourth choice for patients, referrals from GPs, for new staff and for additional funding. They will dwindle as others answer the question “why choose me” more clearly and more compellingly.

This isn’t replacing or rejecting the NHS brand, far from it. It’s about building on the trust and excellence it can represent and interpreting it in a way that’s relevant to each Trust’s ambitions.

Which brings us to co-production, something which is particularly effective in the health sector, and was highlighted when Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust merged with West Middlesex NHS Trust earlier this year. They needed a brand to represent the new combined organisation, and it was agreed that this should be shaped by insights gleaned from staff, patients and commissioners. The resulting feedback was further supplemented by a web survey of a wider range of people and views to ensure a holistic approach.

This co-production was critical in building a successful brand.  No matter how imaginative or thorough a brand may be, its function will always be limited and its impact stifled if it isn’t built by the people who represent it.  Engaging with staff and stakeholders from the outset and drawing on their experiences and views of their organisation resulted in richer and more relevant content upon which to build the brand.

By drawing upon all the stakeholders thoughts and experiences, it became clear that ‘world class patient focused care’ was not the only distinctive part of the two trusts.  They clearly shared a ‘culture of caring’ that suffused their day to day working, all of which was wrapped up in a desire to ‘advance health’ and ‘go beyond’. It was these ideas which became central to their brand as a whole.

As a result the staff and clinicians defined how they built on the NHS legacy for their patients and for the community to address the specific issues and opportunities they currently face.

The resulting brand is a far cry from adding a few new lines to the NHS logo. Ultimately, faux logos are not brands, they are often pointless decoration without any substance, that confuse rather than clarify.

By involving all parties in the co-creation process, each Trust has tapped into its combined ambitions, wisdom and passions to define what their brand is about. This has empowered the stakeholders to create a brand which over time will become a valuable tool in shaping the new healthcare economy.

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