Gimmicks no longer alien to NHS

A free Big Mac with every stone lost or a My Little Pony buggy toy with each completed course of MMR. Experts are advocating health services learning from large corporations when it comes to marketing public health. Among the suggestions are supermarket-style loyalty cards for those who successfully quit smoking.

The thinking behind the proposals is to use large companies' own tools to counter the damage that some have wreaked on public health. But apart from conjuring up images of Tiger Tokens and cereal box giveaways, the idea might have merit to various parts of primary care, and not just at government level.

With the recent health White Paper's interest in supermarket-based GPs it is not a large leap to imagine patients collecting points for every flu jab or health check at Sainsbury's.

As practices are encouraged into greater competition for patients will those with the best marketing schemes, links to organic fruit shops or leisure centre discount offers, win out? Chains of practices owned by a single company could clearly have an advantage with greater critical mass with which to find promotional partners.

Marketing public health is clearly an important effort. But it is an indicator of how the primary care landscape is changing, that discussing such schemes at a more local level no longer seems completely mad.

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