The importance of our identity
The NHS Identity is vitally important, it affects how people think and feel about our NHS. Largely our views of the NHS are shaped by the day to day role it plays in our lives – treating illness and promoting health. But our communications also play an important part in defining who we are.
The single NHS Identity (NHS logo) was introduced in 1999 to unify the NHS and portray the service as a single, consistent entity in England. Subsequently, the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have developed their own dedicated identities.
It is extremely important that the NHS Identity is consistently and clearly applied, because it acts as a signpost, helping patients and the public to identify NHS organisations and services. The NHS logo is seen as a symbol for quality and accountability in healthcare.
The NHS is a source of great national pride, and the identity evokes high levels of trust and reassurance amongst patients and the public. It is the visual representation of the values and purpose of the NHS and conveys the national service, accessible and free to all. Therefore, it is critical that the identity is applied correctly across all NHS services, to capitalise on that goodwill and continue to build the public’s confidence in the NHS.
Policy and guidelines
The NHS Identity guidelines set out how the NHS brand should be applied by NHS organisations and providers of NHS services across a range of different materials. However, the previous guidelines had become outdated, inconsistent and lacked clarity. They had not been reviewed since the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and did not relate to modern channels of communication.
When the Department of Health delegated the day-to-day management and development of the NHS Identity to NHS England in January 2015, NHS England began a thorough review of the guidelines.
The aim of the review was to develop a new NHS Identity policy and updated guidelines, which reflect the needs of patients, the public and users of the NHS Identity both now and for the future. To achieve this there has been extensive public/patient and stakeholder research and engagement.
One thousand interviews and 28 focus groups with patients and the public have identified that they expect and want to see the NHS Identity consistently applied. It reassures them that they can rely on the quality of service being provided – “It’s NHS – you know you can trust it”. However, we are not currently achieving that consistency across the NHS. Patients and the public are seeing the NHS Identity in a range of diverse and inconsistent styles – or in some cases they are not even seeing the NHS Identity at all. This is creating confusion, and concern.
Along with public engagement, interviews have also taken place with over 180 stakeholders and over 100 NHS communications professionals have participated in nine workshops held across England. Their feedback also supports the need to protect the NHS Identity and make sure there is consistent, appropriate and cost-effective usage by both the NHS and its providers.
All of the research findings have helped to inform, rigorously test and refine the new NHS Identity Policy and updated guidelines.
The new NHS Identity Policy and updated guidelines were published in January 2017. They have been approved by the Brand Board, chaired by the Department of Health, and by the Secretary of State for Health.
The new NHS Identity Policy is mandatory for NHS organisations and providers commissioned under the NHS Standard Contract. It sets the framework to achieve the consistent application of the NHS Identity that patients and the public want and expect to see from the NHS as a single, national, unified health service. It also protects the NHS trade mark against misuse. Some of the key areas in the new policy are:
- a single, consistent logo format for all NHS organisations and services.
- an extended, but more defined colour palette.
- reduced number of permitted fonts.
- new digital guidelines.
- clearer guidelines for third party providers of NHS services.
- clarity on use of the NHS logo by NHS organisations for commercial ventures.
Applying the new policy
The updated guidelines provide comprehensive and detailed advice on how to apply the NHS Identity Policy in practice. They feature a wide range of practical, visual examples which show how to apply the identity across different materials and channels – printed materials, websites, social media, apps, signage, vehicle livery etc.
Implementation of the updated NHS Identity guidelines should be gradual. There is no need to go back and change existing offline materials. They should continue to be used until they need to be replenished or replaced to ensure there is no waste.
When new communications and materials are produced, these would carry the new format logo and follow the updated NHS Identity guidelines.
However, existing digital channels, such as websites and social media accounts, should ideally be updated within a year as they are usually easier and quicker to change.
Although we recognise that it will take a number of years for the guidelines to take full effect, the long-term gain will be to visually unify our increasingly complex health system.
If you need advice now on how the new NHS Identity Policy and updated guidelines will apply to your organisation, service or partnership, please visit the contact us page on the NHS Identity website for details of how to make an enquiry.