Social marketing seems to be a confusing term that actually means both understanding people and keeping their needs at the fulcrum of all organisational activity.

Social marketing seems to be a confusing term that actually means both understanding people and keeping their needs at the fulcrum of all organisational activity.

Although this statement seems glib, it is true that public sector organisations have frequently lost focus on the people they serve in a way that a private sector business never could -.and still survive. This government is often accused of flirting with the private sector and the charge is that profit drives efficiency that inevitably leads to job cuts.

The alarming general perception is that efficiency is not compatible with the public sector because its very purpose is blurred and more difficult to measure. The public feel that the private sector are cost-cutters and poor employers while our great public institutions like the NHS are vacuums for public funding and yet rudderless in terms of over-arching strategy.

While there may be elements of truth in both statements it is not generally acknowledged that what the private sector really does consistently well is to know their customers. The social marketing conduit is the transposition of understanding people (and their needs) into the public sector and invigorating NHS management at all levels. The days of Sir Humphrey are over and the deft inhibition of strategy and subtle coasting towards lucrative pensions can not be tolerated anymore by the very customers who have meekly funded this charade for decades.

Less ambiguity
Paradoxically managers of any quality will enjoy this new clarity of purpose and there would naturally be more interchange between public and private sectors since both organisations are now putting their customers first.

Cutting public sector waste is always politically popular. However it would be much more socially responsible to re-structure public service to do just what it says on the tin and truly serve the public through a much more detailed understanding of the needs of the people.

A well thought through central policy needs five-year planning and freedom from political swings that destabilise implementation..Modest local adjustments are acceptable at SHA and even PCT levels but not substantial variations that are distinctly 'off message'. Whatever the justification it cannot be right for a single PCT in Suffolk to terminate centrally approved personal medical services contracts and refuse new one-stop shops that, through subsidy and grant, have no extra rental commitments.

In the new world of social marketing, the excuses 'this building is too good for Suffolk' and it 'might raise public expectations' could never be tolerated. A patient-led NHS has a way to go.

John Havard, general practitioner, Saxmundham,
Suffolk.

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