Observations Medicine and the Media

Selling health to the public

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6639 (Published 24 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6639
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

The NHS advertises services such as vaccination and screening to the public. Margaret McCartney considers the implications of summing up complex interventions in soundbites

We are all used to advertisements urging us to try the latest in jeans, mobile phones, television programmes, and beer. But should the NHS use its resources to entice us to seek its services, such as flu vaccination or screening for cervical or breast cancer?

The problem with advertising is also its strength—namely, that it quickly delivers a short memorable message, such as “Don’t let the flu turn on you,” which is NHS Scotland’s plea for you to roll up your sleeves for a seasonal vaccination. The campaign leaflet depicts a sketch of a man connected to an oxygen mask and a drip. Inside we are told, “Anyone who suffers from heart or lung problems, has certain other medical conditions, or is 65 or older, should get the flu vaccine.” Stephen Fry provided the voiceover for an official national advertisement for the NHS in 2008, stating, “If you knew about the flu, you’d get the jab”; but the NHS now seems to produce different but similar …

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