The end is nigh?

If you haven’t heard the words ‘A&E’ and ‘crisis’ in the same sentence recently, I’m assuming it’s because you have spent the last few years living a hermitic existence among nomads in the Himalayas.

Mentions of Emergency Departments (ED) and the crushing pressure they are under across the UK have been a regular feature on the news, with the always looming threat of underinvestment, along with longer life expectancy and a rising population contributing to demand outstripping supply.

This isn’t just sensationalist press, the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper ‘Accident and Emergency Statistics’ makes for bleak reading: admissions are rising, with increased waiting times, and the strain on service providers is escalating, as they are required to deliver more, with less.

GP surgeries are referring more patients and are struggling to cope and hospitals are running out of beds. You could reasonably assume that citizens of the UK have suddenly become an incredibly sickly populace.

What do golf ball-eating dogs have in common with a hangover?

Hitch has been commissioned to take on this challenge in the East Midlands for Mansfield & Ashfield, and Newark & Sherwood CCGs. Through primary and secondary research looking at the changing demands on A&E, a couple of things become clear: there’s the unavoidable shift towards increasing geriatric care for an ageing population, and there’s a significant issue around unnecessary use of emergency departments.

While not the sum of the problem, our research shows a substantial number of people attended the ED seeking treatment for issues A&E is serious overkill for, these included: a hangover; to have false nails removed; a sore throat; and a verruca. These cases are extreme, but symptomatic. They suggest that service users often see the department as a catchall treatment centre – and in one bizarre situation, a vet. Seriously.

This is aggravated by the age-old, nationwide problem of mixed communications. With some resources encouraging attendance at A&E for certain symptoms, while other materials desperately shoo would-be attendees away (E.g. ‘Blood in your pee? Go to see your GP‘ & ‘Blood in your pee? Go to A&E’), confusion was inevitable.

The twin factors of a lack of knowledge of where to get appropriate help, and the obstacles to obtaining it are exacerbating an innate problem for a health service in a country with a rising population.

Why butterfly nets and boiled sweets aren’t the answer

We’re working with our clients, Mansfield & Ashfield and Newark & Sherwood CCGs to save A&E for those who really need it. Short of paying anti-geriatricians to patrol the streets with nets and packs of Werthers originals as bait, there isn’t much we can do about the development in recent years of people living longer (not that we would. We like people living longer).

But through the development of a memorable, distinctive, communications campaign aimed at clarifying appropriate ED use and redirecting service users to the right access points, we’re reducing the strain on A&E.

Our version of Harry Stamper

Next time you’re in the Mansfield area keep your eyes peeled for the Right Care, First Time campaign across the full gamut of advertising: Facebook and other social media, radio, and digital web adverts, print, screens in GPs and hospitals, even some surprisingly addictive flashcard jigsaws and colouring sheets for 0-5s.

We’ve tested these through focus groups and hall tests to ensure the messages resonate, and we’ve targeted them with insight around the most prevalent unnecessary attendances (parents of children 0-5 and young adults aged 19-29), so they’re hitting the issue with maximum impact.

And because we’re all about measurable results at Hitch, we’re evaluating the campaign through a three-stage survey (monitoring baseline, interim and final stages) and evaluation, so we can see what’s working. Always gathering insights we can act on in the future.

When eating elephants…

Awareness and appropriate service use isn’t the sum of the problem, but it’s a start, a step in the right direction, with the potential for bigger impact along the road to help bring about a sustainable NHS.

In the surreal words of what I assume is an ancient proverb from the aforementioned Himalayan nomads: How do you eat an elephant? One fork-full at a time.

Copyright © 2021 Hitch