Frontline staff are key messengers

It is rare to find yourself at the receiving end of the very public services you are promoting.

But that is what happened to me last week when, during an otherwise painless house move, I dropped the corner of a PC base unit on my hand.

The resulting hole didn't actually hurt much, but it looked quite dramatic, and all the workmen and removal guys who clustered around agreed I should get it checked out at the A&E.

It took a neighbour and former NHS employee to point out that it was probably more practical and certainly quicker to go to a nearby minor injuries unit instead. Of course. I'd just spent the previous few days working on a story to help discourage needless journeys to A&E and yet - there I was - about to attend a major trauma unit when all I needed was a couple of steri-strips. So I had not only damaged my hand, my computer and my ego, but I had also ignored my own key messages.

Since we all learn from our mistakes, however, once my hand was mended and the PC was working again, I pondered that there were four conclusions to be drawn.

First, I had witnessed a perfect demonstration that frontline staff will always be the most effective advocates of the rationale behind certain services - even when the PR people themselves are standing next to them.

Second, I decided NHS signage should be overhauled and improved, having spent most of the short car journey driven by my very understanding spouse following signs that said 'Not an A&E unit', 'No A&E here' and 'This hospital does not include A&E services'.

Surely we should have been directed towards what we wanted - as in 'Minor injuries unit this way' - and not towards something we didn't want?

Third, the incident had underlined a very simple management principle - that you shouldn't pay someone to do something for you, which they are better qualified to do, and then do it yourself.

Finally, I learned that PC base units are remarkably resilient, but that they can also have very sharp corners.

- Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

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