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Health service chief critical of Covid-19 ‘Protect the NHS’ slogan

The head of NHS England was critical of the government’s slogan urging people to “protect the NHS” at the start of the Covid pandemic, amid concerns it would stop people coming forward for much-needed treatment.

Simon Stevens, who led the NHS until July 2021, was one of the slogan’s “greatest critics” and was not involved in the government discussion that led to the phrase being deployed.

“It was a tremendously powerful slogan,” writes journalist Isabel Hardman in Fighting for Life: The Twelve Battles That Made Our NHS, and the Struggle for Its Future.

“It was popular in government – but not universally so. In fact, one of its greatest critics was Simon Stevens. Stevens wasn’t on the calls where [government advisers] came up with ‘Protect the NHS’, and initially he complained in private that it gave the impression that the public was there for the health service – not the health service being there for the public.

“Either way, the focus quickly became about the importance of ‘protecting the NHS’. But there was never a clear definition of what it was being protected from.”

Later in 2020, Lord Stevens referred to his concerns about the slogan, writing: “Rather than say ‘Protect the NHS’, health service staff prefer to say: ‘Help us help you’.”

Senior NHS figures also attempted to battle against the slogan from the spring of 2020, urging patients to come forward as normal.

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Source: The Guardian, 25 June 2023


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