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NHS needs marketing approach

The Chartered Institute of Marketing has published a white paper which says the NHS must become a market-led organisation
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has published a white paper which says the NHS must become a market-led organisation.

It argues that in order for the NHS to become patient-led it must adopt a marketing approach and that there is a lack of clarity surrounding the issue. The white paper, The Real NHS: The Benefits of a Marketing Approach, explores what benefits a marketing approach could offer the NHS, its patients and stakeholders. According to CIM, the NHS and its staff hold misconstrued perceptions of marketing and choose to label it as 'spin' or advertising.

David Thorp, director of research and information at CIM, said: "The move towards a more patient-led NHS will not happen overnight - there are considerable barriers to change within the NHS."

A presentation of CIM's white paper took place in London on April 22 with a view to promoting existing training courses for marketers and managers working with the NHS. CIM believes that marketing could have a positive effect on the organisation.

"If marketers are willing to engage with their colleagues, use intelligible marketing terms and demonstrate clearly the benefits a focus on patient needs can bring, they will find a more receptive audience that will help make a patient-led NHS a reality sooner rather than later," said Thorp.

CIM worked with its own medical marketing group to draft the white paper and held discussions with marketing managers from various NHS Trusts and organisations. A further presentation of the white paper is scheduled to take place at St James' University in Leeds on June 22.

In February 2008, CIM announced that it had set up a marketing training course for NHS managers. It is as a one-day workshop and aimed at NHS foundation and Acute Trust directors and managers responsible for service delivery. CIM says the course, Marketing to Succeed in a Competitive NHS, looks at issues such as delivering a patient-focused service, developing a market plan and financial performance.

"We have to accept that patient choice and 'payment by results' are now a fact for the NHS and managers need to understand how they will have to alter what they do to take it on board," Thorp added.

"NHS managers now have to understand how to market themselves to the public, build reputation, develop a patient-led service, measure effectiveness in terms of value delivered and all in a way that does not drain resources from patient healthcare,î he added.

During the annual conference of the Association of Healthcare Communicators, CIM held a master class that outlined the need for changing attitudes towards marketing ahead of NHS commercialisation.

CIM said: "It is vital that health trusts begin to recruit staff with appropriate commercial skills capable of delivering the vision and developing the next generation of health service commercial specialists."

The Department of Health published guidelines for the Patient Choice Initiative in April 2008 stating that people requiring non-emergency surgery can have their operation at any NHS approved hospital of their choosing. Plans put forward by the Department grants NHS hospitals authority to promote their services, advertise to attract more patients and publicise success stories such as reduced MRSA rates.

Strict rules are in place, however, to govern advertising that aims to protect the image and reputation of the NHS. Under the new plans, individual hospitals will be able to enter into sponsorship deals with the private sector companies provided they are not engaged in political, gambling, tobacco or alcohol related activities.

The Times reported that Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) consultants' committee, said that he is "worried that it will be difficult for patients to make informed choices. We still have a long way to go in collecting accurate, reliable and meaningful data".

23rd April 2008

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