Health trusts waste millions on disjointed campaigns

Local health care trusts have wasted £5.5m on a series of disjointed branding and marketing initiatives to encourage young people to be tested for Chlamydia, according to a report by the public spending watchdog.

Department of Health campaign

Local health care trusts have wasted £5.5m on a series of disjointed branding and marketing initiatives to encourage young people to be tested for Chlamydia, according to a report by the public spending watchdog.

A damning report published today, 12 November, by the National Audit Office (NAO) assessed the Government’s National Chlamydia Screening Programme, concluding that national or regionalised campaigns would have been more effective.

Instead, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have generally worked in isolation, creating “at least 45 different brand identities” in addition to nationally-branded patient information leaflets, posters and websites. This had caused the messaging to become diluted and confused, and wasted money, the report says.

Since the screening programme was launched in 2003, some £5.5m has been spent by local PCTs on localised campaigns to promote it. PCT’s average spend on marketing and communications was £36,400 in 2008/09, according to the NAO, ranging from £910 to £481,000.

However, six years on, testing levels have only just begun to reach the stage where, with resulting treatment, they are likely to reduce the prevalence of the sexually transmitted disease.

Next year, the Government plans to launch a national campaign for the screening programme, with the NAO advising that the Department of Health “should consider ways in which the message about Chlamydia testing can be reinforced nationally while ensuring that consistent messages are delivered locally”.

The Government decided against a national campaign in 2003 because it felt it was inappropriate to encourage young people to seek out testing before testing services were in place throughout the country.

A DoH spokeswoman says: “National coverage was completed in March 2008. We acknowledge that many areas have chosen to implement local marketing programmes to promote their programmes locally.”

The DoH declined to comment on the money wasted on local campaigns, though it did confirm there would be a new communication strategy for sexual health and teenage pregnancy, one strand of which will focus on encouraging the acceptance of a Chlamydia test when it’s offered. “A number of agencies are working on the project, including Vallance Caruthers Coleman Priest,” the spokeswoman adds.

The screening programme has, however, not been linked to previous sexual health campaigns funded by the DoH and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

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