NHS recruitment campaign sends out wrong message

Call it reassuring or horrifying, but the last few weeks have proved the advertising giants can get it wrong, very wrong. Taking the rawest of emotions, life defining private moments, and casting out for cynical public consumption – yes that’s you McDonalds – is ill conceived at best. You have to wonder what happened to the market research.

I felt my own sense of disbelief, a personal outrage, when I saw Hull and East Yorkshire (HEY) Hospitals NHS Trust’s recruitment campaign last week.

A campaign that I believe denigrates NHS staff when professional identity is already being compromised. I wasn’t expecting to see Carry on Doctor make a comeback in 2017.

Developed by HEY and the Strawberry Design Company, the Remarkable People, Extraordinary Place campaign is featured on billboards, on social and digital media and across the Trust’s new careers portal. The ads feature doctors (white, male) and nurses (blonde, white female) in jaunty poses next to flirtatious ‘tongue in cheek’ slogans. Think ‘wink, wink, nudge nudge, ooh matron’ and you’re just about there. Put that together with a questionable representation of diversity across the campaign and it doesn’t look good. It incenses me that we these stereotypes are being reinforced, and that someone thought it was ‘okay’.

I’ve worked for the NHS and extensively with its staff. The falling living standards, rising patient numbers and limited resources makes it a tough place to work. I know how acute the workforce pressures are and that it’s likely to get worse. Recruitment is a critical, daily struggle. Portraying roles as jobs for the boys/jobs for the girls/jobs for BME groups belies the skills and diversity of the NHS workforce and threatens staff morale.

The campaign has drawn dismay from nurses, clinical leaders, doctors, male and female, and hit the national headlines this week. Disrespectful, antiquated, sexist, demeaning, damaging to professions are all words being used and I have to agree with all of them.

The Trust has issued an apology saying it did not intend to cause offence, claiming some of the pictures were issued in error. But unfortunately there are more where those came from and many fall far short of ethical standards, in my view.

In spite of the criticism not all the ads are offensive and they have delivered some impressive outcomes – 325 new nurses have been recruited with a threefold increase overall. But how far does advertising need to go to get ‘a reaction’ and does the end really justify the means? It will be interesting to see if the proposition put forward by the Trust translates into equally strong retention rates.

I can’t knock the data but I don’t agree with the tactics and I’m disappointed that this time it’s the NHS under scrutiny. I expect more from public bodies, especially ones I care deeply about. I believe strongly that the language we use matters, the images we portray, the example we set matters and I believe that NHS staff deserve better.

Lorraine Bridges is Director at Bare PR

Posted in Diversity, Editor's Picks, Public Affairs, Public Relations

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