The internet’s unequalled capacity to inform and communicate with the public should have been comprehensively exploited by the NHS.
Instead, as the leaked NHS digital communications review starkly demonstrates, confusion and inefficiency reign.
Contrast, for example, the ability to access local authority services online with the near impossibility of digitally interacting with your GP surgery or hospital.
Why? An early lack of focus led to a rush to catch up which, in turn, saw hundreds of NHS sites burst into life with little thought of how they would be used. The financial squeeze will cull many of those sites, but it will not address the public’s number one need - a single access point through which they can reach NHS information.
Frustratingly, that access point exists in NHS Choices, for which I briefly worked following its June 2007 launch. NHS Choices boasts both the content and the basic navigational approach which could provide the organising framework for NHS digital services. Its traffic is impressive - Choices is among the top 300 websites in the UK - but its profile is low. Battles at the Department of Health restricted its marketing spend and now the cupboard is bare.
The answer is to allow it to access advertising revenues on the condition funds are ploughed back into marketing. It could best take on this challenge as part of the health secretary’s new armada of social enterprises.
NHS brand undermined by online confusion
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Free NHS Choices to meet public need