Why Is the NHS Wasting Money on Advertising? Costly: Hospitals' Advertising Spending Could Affect Staff Numbers

Daily Mail (London), April 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Is the NHS Wasting Money on Advertising? Costly: Hospitals' Advertising Spending Could Affect Staff Numbers


Byline: JILL FOSTER

FROM this week, NHS hospitals in England are allowed to advertise toattract patients, and can even use testimonials from celebrities to do so.Here, DR JONATHAN FIELDEN, chairman of the British Medical Association'sconsultants committee, explains his concerns about the changes..

WHAT would you rather have from your hospital: a glossy brochure with picturesof nice rooms and the Beckhams' walking out of the wards, or for it to be ableto perform 60 extra hip replacements? It may seem a facile question but HealthMinister Ben Bradshaw's opening up of advertising raises many concerns for meand my colleagues at the British Medical Association.

Healthcare and patients may well suffer in the long term.

Hospitals may close, patients may be directed to inappropriate institutions fortheir particular condition and hundreds of thousands of poundswhich should be going into patient carewill be ploughed into showing off health trusts' 'hotel' aspects, such as therooms, food and even the parking.

Already, the Government has stated that the health department will allow nearly[pounds sterling]600,000 to be spent on newspaper and radio advertising per health trust.

That's a substantial sum even for a larger than average trust, and could payfor around 30 nurses, run several wards and replace about 60 hips.

But it's not simply a question of 'wasting' money on advertising. The new codealso permits NHS trusts and private treatment centres to compete for businessby claiming superior results from surgery or lower incidence of MRSA infection.

From this month onwards, information will be placed on the NHS website showingwaiting times, infection rates during nonemergency surgery, and surveys ofpatients' views on treatment quality.

While I agree that every patient should have access to this kind ofinformation, it's by no means the most significant data a patient should betaking into account when choosing where to be treated.

Statistics are notoriously inaccurate.

Mortality rates, for instance, can easily be misinterpreted. If the localpopulation around one particular hospital is elderly, naturally more peoplewill die there.

The surgical teams may be superb but for that very reason, they may attract themost complicated and therefore risky cases.

Both reasons will skew the mortality rates for that hospital even though it maybe first rate. Waiting lists are another example. Just because a hospital has ashort waiting list, it doesn't mean it is more efficient. …

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