As Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Health, specialising in departmental communications, we played a senior leadership role – working alongside the heads of communication for DH and NHS Corporate Communications – in the planning, design and delivery of the 1998 50th Anniversary celebrations for the National Health Service.
Highlights of the national celebrations included a Buckingham Palace Garden Party for NHS staff, the launch of a commemorative 50p coin by the Royal Mint, a service at Westminster Abbey, an international healthcare conference at Earl’s Court, and the Ideal Health Show – a major public exhibition at Olympia.
The celebrations also included thousands of local events all over the country, plus a nationally co-ordinated effort from all health organisations and professional bodies.
The national celebrations were a triumph. Private polling and market research confirmed that public satisfaction and confidence in the NHS rose significantly over the period. This helped convince Number 10 and HM Treasury of the desirability of co-ordinated national and local action, backed by significant investment, to secure a sustainable future for the NHS.
One communications triumph achieved quietly and without drawing attention to itself during the year-long celebrations was the re-introduction of the national symbol of the NHS – the “blue lozenge” – after years of NHS hospitals and organisations being encouraged to create their own independent logos and corporate identity.
By incorporating the lozenge into the feet of the official celebrations’ logo, controversy over spending on NHS comms was avoided, with the celebrations’ figurehead disappearing at the end of the year to leave behind the successful delivery of one of the biggest corporate rebranding exercises ever undertaken.