Helen Martin: Remember that the NHS is ours

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SOMETIMES, a person has to say only one thing, one good quote, to make an ­impression. Such a person is Professor Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health and public policy.

NHS Lothian’s complaints department has been renamed the “Customer Relations and Feedback Team”, and the man in charge of it is director of communications Stuart Wilson.

According to Professor McCallum, it is not appropriate that patients are considered “customers”.

She says: “They are taxpayers and owners of the service.”

She is not alone among her ­colleagues in ­cringing at the idea of referring to patients as customers, as if hospitals and surgeries were ­commercial operations.

In defending the the term “customer”, Mr Wilson digs himself deeper by adding: “Patients are just one of the components of customer 

Great, now we are ­components.

The other “components”, are carers, relatives, politicians, lobby groups and members of the public.

For a man in communications, I can only assume he is being deliberately obtuse in failing to grasp the point that we are all owners of the NHS. He also falls at the first fence in the communications business, which is relating to the people with whom you are trying to communicate and therefore knowing how your message will be received. Badly, is the answer Mr Wilson.

The Prof is bang on. In fact it’s a lesson all publicly-owned services would do well to learn, and to ­incorporate in their communication strategies.

From buses and trams – especially trams – to all council services from refuse disposal to schools, street lights to parking enforcement, and planning to libraries, we are not “service-users” or “customers”.

We really are the owners. It’s a truth the mandarins, officials, ­over-paid managers and public ­sector ­employees, especially those in the higher ranks, would rather not ­accept. It’s also a term they would hate to use even on paper because “Dear Owner . .” implies quite a different relationship.

It demands some respect; it’s a reminder of who is served and who is the employee. It might also help concentrate the mind on delivering a better service and apologising ­rather more effusively when things go wrong.

Oh, I know. There’s nothing worse than some miscreant caught in the act and having a go at the police by yelling pointlessly: “I pay your wages, you know.”

Or maybe there is. I’m old enough to remember when police officers addressed everybody including those younger, older, richer and poorer, as “Sir” or “Madam”. Even when they were hauling some drunk off to the clink it was: “I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us, sir.”

We are often told that respect for authority is dwindling, particularly amongst the young.

It’s hardly surprising. Respect is a two-way street. Forget the public sector jargon. We are ­people, individuals, ladies, gentlemen, sir or madam, and to doctors, we are patients.

We are not “users”, paying ­customers or, God forbid Mr Wilson, “components”.


THE supermarket checkout operator who refused to serve a customer who was rudely talking to someone else on her mobile is a heroine. How about the UK having a national No Mobile Phones Day?

I don’t miss trips to the city centre

I CAN’T recall the last time I was in Princes Street or George Street, although I’ve visited Stockbridge Sunday market, and dropped someone off at Waverley.

With tram works, lack of parking, road works and street closures versus free parking and shopping, eating and cinemas at out of town centres, it’s a no-brainer. I don’t miss the city centre. It is over-priced and for tourists, which is why I’m all for the George Street plan for pavement cafes, and carnivals.

Leave the natives the ‘burbs, the M8, Dobbies, out-of-town malls and the rest of the Lothians.

MP pay proposal risks revolution

I WONDER if the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority knows it is flirting with revolution. If its recommendation to give MPs a £10,000 rise goes through, I’d be happy to take to the streets – armed with nothing more than a bag of flour.

MPs get £66,396 – £40k above the national average, plus expenses, allowances, resettlement payment and a fab pension. It’s not about asking if they deserve more. We’ve all had wage freezes and below inflation rises – everyone deserves more. The question for MPs, as for us all, is whether the employer can afford it and is willing to pay more. We can’t, and we’re not.

Obvious politics is a man’s world

DO women really know less about politics as the Economic and Social ­Research Council says? Is that – as they claim – ­as there aren’t enough women such as Margo MacDonald interviewed or quoted on the subject?

No, it’s because men made the rules. Thus it appears as a combative and unsavoury world. Maybe, if it ever becomes more genuine and mature we’ll want to learn more.