…yesterday was international, “Hello my name is” day; did you know that? Me neither. We do now. The day came about as the result of the treatment experienced by a patient with terminal cancer called Dr Kate Granger, Kate became concerned that the health professionals treating her did not introduce themselves and engage with their patients and thus the “#hellomynameis” campaign was created. The idea was to encourage Health staff to use the phrase to introduce themselves so as to quickly create a good dialogue with patients. That’s good I hear you say and of course, the NHS made sure that this was seen as big news by mainstream media and Twitter has since become awash with #hellomynameis

But I was and still am, confused by it all. I was confused that anyone thought this was a story, “Extra, extra, read all about it, people in UK’s publicly funded health service learn how to introduce themselves to their customers after 67 years”… sure that is a story isn’t it, but it’s more of a culturally revealing and damning one than a good one. Of course it’s great that the loosely managed franchise that delivers health under a banner we call the NHS has decided to introduce some consistency in the way it deals with patients; this might even help it start to look like a nationally consistent service, not one that has no nationally adopted guidelines on customer and patient service in place up to this point; surely not I hear you cry! Oh yes, it’s true dear reader, the NHS, unlike any other service business you know, has NO national guidance on what good customer service looks like and some NHS Trusts do not even have a budget for patient information…that phrase we keep hearing in NHS circles that, “it’s time to become patient centred” is far too often just that, a phrase.

The real story behind this non-story is that it offers a further glimpse into who the Public Sector has treated as its customer up to this point, and as you might predictably expect in the absence of a linear relationship between the balance sheet and the satisfaction of its service users, it has clearly not been the patients; it has been the funders and regulators who control the purse strings who have been the focus of senior managers attention. There can be no other service based business in the world turning over as much money with as many points of personal contact that would congratulate itself so heartily on simply remembering who it was actually there to serve. The irony should not be wasted on any of us that for a business delivering services in the Private Sector the adoption of good customer service principles would have been a basic hygiene factor, the ignoring of which would have quickly spelt disaster. The fact that the NHS has been able to fly under the radar of consistent customer service for so long is not something its customers or its taxpaying funders should celebrate. We should all be asking why so little senior focus has been devoted to it up until now…worryingly, we should all be asking, why did it take the experience of a Doctor who worked for the NHS to help wake the NHS up to the basics of customer service? Why did the NHS only pay attention to one of its own when for so long it had been ignoring the thousands of patients voices and patient experience groups who had been telling it for years that they wanted to be treated with compassion?

There is little doubt that what Dr Kate Granger did was a good thing, but there is also little doubt that it revealed an NHS that was and still is ill-equipped and largely incapable of listening to the voices of the ordinary patients it exists to serve, and an NHS that pays little heed and even less resource to supporting the basics of customer service. There is much more to be learned from the experience of Dr Kate Granger than a strapline that seems to be fast becoming a Public Sector surrogate for investing in real customer service…

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