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Time to rebrand the NHS?

By Peter Gilheany

23 June 2015

The National Health Service (NHS) sits at the heart of our country, and as we know from recent election debates, is fiercely protected by all politicians and greatly loved by the general public. Why then, when we as individuals generally hold it in such high regard, do we not take some responsibility for it? The NHS is a much loved institution but it is too important to allow it to be a sacred cow.

To improve its performance and safeguard its future, we all need to take some ownership and care of it, to engage in debates on how it can get better – we need to be partners in better healthcare rather than a passive consumer of it.

That starts with knowing how and why financial decisions are made, and the impact of our own behaviour on those finances, such as the cost of not turning up for a GP appointment.  Channel 4’s recent programme £2 billion a week (and counting) is just one example of the type of honest debate that healthcare communicators need to have – and keep having.

On a wider level, we cannot completely outsource responsibility for our own health to the NHS. We need to take some responsibility and not rely on the NHS ‘to fix us’ – and maybe we can start to change the relationship we have with the NHS by tweaking its name.

The word ‘service’ implies a passive relationship where someone can turn up and the healthcare professionals will make everything better. Would a simple switch to National Health Support stimulate a new, more active partnership between public and professionals, and start to build a bigger sense of personal responsibility?

While (unfortunately) this is likely to be too radical a change, the issue of public ownership and expectation for what the NHS can provide remains. It falls to communicators to tell the real story of the NHS, to educate the public that the principles of better care and better access to care mean that change is inevitable, and essential.