“Bizarre” plans by Yorkshire NHS leaders for a so-called guerrilla marketing campaign to “turn down the noise about cuts” should be scrapped, a health union has demanded.
Marketing firms have been asked to express an interest in a £10,000 contract to run a nine-month project to promote the Humber, Coast and Vale Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).
The STP is designed to alter the way NHS services are run over the next five years to meet an estimated £420m budget shortfall in places including Beverley, Grimsby, Hull, Scarborough and York.
It is one of 44 STPs across the country designed to tackle a £22bn NHS funding shortfall.
The document advertising the contract for the “social media and guerrilla marketing campaign” says that interested companies will be asked “to turn down the noise about cuts to services and risks to the NHS, and be able to demonstrate that our population understands that a focus on quality and prevention will sustain services into the future”.
Unite, the country’s largest union with 100,000 members in the health service, said today that such “bizarre” expenditure when the NHS was faced with a financial crisis was “completely unacceptable”.
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “The protests against the cuts that the NHS is currently experiencing need to be turned up, not turned down.
“Unite has argued for some time that the 44 STPs across England are a secretive agenda designed to impose even more cuts on NHS frontline services and patient care.
“The fact this STP wants to spend £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on what is bizarrely described as ‘guerrilla marketing’ to manipulate public opinion is a disgrace and this plan should be dropped like a hot potato.”
The plan to hire a private firm to conduct the marketing exercise has also been described as “ill-advised” by June Barton of Hornsea Cottage Hospital League of Friends.
Mrs Barton, who is helping lead the fight against plans to close three minor injury units in Hornsea, Driffield and Withernsea, said locals are “extremely anxious” about the changes proposed for local services.
“A lot of people in this area don’t go on social media. The money could be spent more wisely on maintaining Minor Injury Unit services.
“We are all agreed we want quality care – but if we are stuck in the sticks and haven’t got access to transport how can you access this wonderful quality care?
“It is frightening, really frightening. We have a lot of vulnerable elderly people, a lot on low incomes, who don’t have access to cars, who rely on public transport which is virtually non-existent.”
But a spokeswoman for the Humber, Coast and Vale STP partnership said the use of external support for marketing work was “proportionate and timely”.
She said: “We are committed to adopting an inclusive approach to the development of plans as part of our STP process.
“We are seeking new and innovative ways to engage the public in a conversation that is positive and that enables them to contribute their own experiences to the development of future services. The language used in the call for Expressions of Interest was intended to attract professionals who understand how to target hard to reach groups, those whose voices are often not heard and whose valuable insights as patients and service users might otherwise be lost.”