Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why Miss Piggy is bigger news than Andrew Lansley

As the Health and Social Care Bill struggles its way to the statute book (or maybe not), it has to be noted that this has not been one of the Coalition’s finest hours. The Bill has become a political embarrassment and therefore a PR disaster.
When the fabulous David Beckham fell out with the equally fabulous (but in a very different way) Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United football club, Beckham had to go. Why? Because in Ferguson’s words ‘no-one is bigger than the club’. This puts me in mind of some of the issues facing the Health Bill. Andrew Lansley, UK Secretary of State for Health, is making more headlines than the reform itself. In the past week alone we have read:

‘Lansley will have to go, says top Lib Dem as party faces revolt’
‘Tories turn ‘toxic’ as health bill falters and reshuffle approaches’
‘Andrew Lansley right man for NHS Reform – Nick Clegg’

Lansley and the coalition PR machine have got it all so wrong. A good definition of public relations is ‘The art or science of establishing and promoting a favourable relationships with the public’ Lansley’s ‘public’ includes over 1 million healthcare workers, a multitude of charities, care organisations and clinical practitioners. Not forgetting the powerful clinical bodies, colleges and unions. The lack of convincing and coherent narrative and Lansley’s inability to sway from his fixed, flawed vision are the two greatest contributing factors to this debacle. Another golden rule of PR – adapt to circumstances and sadly, flexibility is definitely not one of Lansley’s fortes.

It is widely accepted that reform is needed and some of the content of the Bill makes sense. But the message has been consistently off the mark.

My first job in healthcare marketing and PR was to promote a new private hospital in North London. State of the art medical facilities, cooperative working with the NHS and a high standard of care was of absolutely no interest to the local press, who we were very keen to get on side. We knew that a bad news private healthcare story would hit the headlines but any positive press releases were ignored. And then I got a front news story. A lifesaving heart transplant? Ground breaking technology? No. A baby. We sent pictures to the press of the first baby born in the hospital and the adorable little tot and her proud Mum graced the front page of every local rag.

There just haven’t been any good news stories about how this Bill will actually work. Poor Lansley, who according to his colleagues is ‘a decent man’, will ultimately have to take the rap for not only his, but his party’s failings. They really have made a pig’s ear of this.

Which brings me nicely to the title of this blog. Earlier this week I was flicking through the Metro newspaper (a free circulation newspaper with over 3.5 million readers) as always looking for health news stories. A large headline on one of the early pages caught my eye ‘Miss Piggy wants to start a family with Kermit’. About 10 pages later was a much smaller article entitled ‘Andrew Lansley rules out resigning over NHS reforms’

No contest.


Chairman Chegwin said...

It's actually worse that that. The narrative that has been developed doesn't actually match the reality. Two of the key "benefits" of the Bill are that:

a) The Bill gives power to doctors and nurses,
b) The Bill will cut bureaucracy.

Neither of these is true. On the first point, the reality is that under current plans, 60% of commissioning will be done by the Commissioning Board - and this will INCREASE if, for whatever reason, large numbers of CCGs end up not being authorised (by the Board!)

Secondly, on cutting bureaucracy, again the opposite is true. I have a couple of good slides at work which set out the system "before and after" as it were. The "after" is a quite bewildering maze of relationships and accountabilities.

Funnily enough, I support(ed) the reforms - as they were originally set out in the White Paper However, that's not where we are now. The "listening exercise" was (and is) a disaster and the changes that have been made since have simply appeased when a certain boldness was required. What we have now is a long way from the original White Paper intentions.

I think we'll be back here in five years time discussing the need for further reform to clear up the mess....

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