Canberra Health Services (CHS) CEO Dave Peffer isn’t afraid to admit the healthcare brand has an image problem.
“We know we’re not always getting this right, but we’re committed to improving,” he said.
But it’s not just staffing issues, negative culture reports, extensive wait times and patient privacy breaches.
CHS also lacks an established identity, which is having a negative impact on recruitment.
“The market for talent in healthcare is competitive. We’re up against much larger, well-established health services that are running big-money recruitment campaigns nationally, and globally,” Mr Peffer said.
“In a marketplace like that, using old recruitment artefacts and campaigns is like turning up with your under-7s team to play in the NRL.
“The competition is in a different league. And it shows in the results.”
In response to this issue, CHS has invested $1.5 million over two years to develop a brand strategy, which includes an $800,000 contract with a consultancy firm to create its image.
The aim is to simplify access to CHS services and make it more attractive to healthcare staff looking for employment.
CHS split from ACT Health in 2018, but it has struggled since then to establish a solid public health brand.
Mr Peffer said he frequently heard from patients and the community that the complexity and breadth of services offered by CHS were difficult to find, understand and navigate.
“From someone who works every day on the Canberra Hospital campus, even I can find it confusing to track down a particular service or team,” he said.
“Now imagine you’re from the surrounding region and it’s your first visit to the hospital campus, and you’re running late for an appointment. Or if you’re vision impaired, or English wasn’t your first language.
“We can pretend these things don’t matter and we shouldn’t waste money on better signage. But for a health service trying to be accessible and inclusive, it doesn’t cut it.”
In addition to Canberra’s public hospitals, CHS also operates 28 community-based health services and facilities.
Mr Peffer said this wasn’t as much as a “re-branding” of CHS as actually a “branding” in the first place.
The team is also taking the step to implement the new branding – which will include signage and uniforms – across all of its services all at once as part of the “ambitious two-year investment”, rather than roll it out in an ad hoc fashion.
Mr Peffer said this was the right time to do this work to coincide with the new critical services building on the Canberra Hospital campus, the new Cancer Research Centre, expanding pharmacy services, upgrading medical imaging and new community health services.
“Either we invest now as we’re refreshing our infrastructure, or we have brand new facilities with out-of-date signage and brands, generating confusion and contributing to a poor patient experience,” he said.
“Most similar projects of this nature are done in a piecemeal way over a long time – carrying the risk of inconsistency, changes in scope, and creating patient and team member confusion due to differences in the brand.”
Mr Peffer also hit back at those who said the money would be better spent on just hiring the staff in the first place.
He explained the money was actually there to fill positions, but it was difficult to attract people when the brand wasn’t identifiable in the first place.
“Health services around the world are experiencing elevated separation rates, forcing employers to compete for a workforce that isn’t growing in line with demand,” Mr Peffer said.
“There’s been plenty of opinions shared recently about this being a waste of money. I can understand how that might be how it’s viewed. But from someone whose team has recruited more than 1700 health care and support workers in the last 12 months, I can tell you these investments matter.”
However, he’s also perfectly aware that culture would be another reason people may steer clear of CHS, and so work was being done at the same time to address those issues so that the public health service would be an attractive place to work all round.
“Comments suggesting that if we improve the culture in the health service, we wouldn’t need to be recruiting as much are sound,” Mr Peffer said.
“I agree with those views – which is why culture has been one of our top priorities in recent years. But as anyone who has run a large and complex organisation knows, changing culture isn’t like flicking a switch. It’s a slow and deliberate process.
“That’s why we need to do both. Remain committed to improving our culture, and invest alongside in our branding and recruitment efforts.
“Rebranding is a part of our improvement journey. It’s not instead of it.”
However, not everyone is convinced this strategy is the way to address CHS’s “brand identity crisis”.
Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley said the idea a lack of brand was impacting CHS’s ability to become a leading specialist provider was a “muddle-headed assumption”, which wouldn’t improve the perceived quality of its services.
“Canberra’s public health system used to be a world leader because it offered the best health services … There’s little point having a new brand if services don’t improve,” she said.
“Where is this Government’s mind at? $1.6m would pay for 60 hip replacements, 400 cataract operations or 600 MRIs.”
The Canberra Liberals requested documents related to the branding project to be released under Freedom of Information laws, and said hundreds of pages had been redacted.
“While some redactions of personal information and the like are acceptable, others appear over-zealous redactions of criticisms of CHS,” Ms Castley said.
“I will therefore be asking the ACT Ombudsman to review aspects of this FoI decision.”