HSJ EXCLUSIVE High street marketeer to teach hospitals how to compete for business

Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 5

The Department of Health has created a central 'marketing intelligence unit' to teach NHS trusts how to strengthen their reputations as they compete to win patients.

NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp said the unit will be run by DoH director of strategy Stephen O'Brien, who previously worked for home improvement giant Kingfisher, which owns B&Q, Woolworths and Comet.

The DoH is also consulting the Advertising Standards Authority about how to ensure a level playing field for NHS providers, including foundation trusts and the independent sector, seeking to advertise their services.

Sir Nigel told a conference in London last week that organisations would have to become much more savvy in marketing and advertising themselves if they were to succeed as the NHS rolls out patient choice and payment by results.

He said the role of the new marketing intelligence unit will be 'to understand patients better, what choices patients make, and how they will react to choice'.

The government has promised all patients referred for treatment a choice of four or five hospitals by December 2005. The full roll-out of payment by results will follow four months later.

The DoH said the unit, run by Mr O'Brien, who was appointed DoH director of strategy last June, had just begun work and would be 'properly up and running by late summer'.

Mr O'Brien spent seven years working for international retailer Kingfisher, including a post as marketing director for electrical company Comet. Most recently he was director of strategy for parent company Kingfisher PLC.

A DoH spokesman explained the unit would 'help trusts understand the needs of patients as customers, as it will provide feedback on customer patterns, user experience and how the NHS can improve its service [in order to] help trusts in terms of marketing themselves to prospective patients'. He said the unit would use information gathered via the national IT programme to track patterns of how people use the health service.

Sir Nigel said NHS organisations needed to prepare now so that they were able to respond to patients' choices, improve their marketing and intelligence and build their reputations.

'We need to understand how to react and change when patients make choices, something NHS organisations may not have done in the past, ' he said.

He told the conference, run by the NHS Confederation, that the NHS needed 'much better marketing techniques and ways of gathering rich intelligence on how people live their lives'.

Sir Nigel said trust boards would need to learn how 'they build reputations - which will not just be about issuing a press release after the event and keeping their heads down'.

He said that it would be important for boards in acute and primary care trusts to have an 'understanding of both commercial activity and finances as well as [knowing about] marketing to the local community'.

On Tuesday, DoH head of access development and capacity Bob Ricketts told a Healthcare Financial Management Association event that the DoH is in talks with the ASA about how to ensure 'plurality and equality' for public and private sectors providers seeking to advertise their services.

ACAD eyes new markets

The ambulatory care and diagnostic centre at Central Middlesex Hospital is considering advertising its services to GPs and primary care trusts in order to fill spare capacity.

ACAD, the UK's first standalone elective treatment centre, was facing closure last year because it did not have enough patients (news, page 6, 11 November).

Although the centre has now managed to avoid shutting by transferring a number of patients from within North West London Hospitals trust, a trust spokesperson told HSJ that the 'independent sector is a threat and we are having to look at new opportunities. We are considering marketing ourselves to GPs and PCTs. We need to become more inventive about getting patients to keep pace'.

Marketing masterclass

The role of marketing in attracting and securing business will be discussed at an HSJ conference on elective care on Wednesday March 16.

www. hsj-electivecare. co. uk