Changing Behaviour

Changing health behaviours is one of the key goals of any effective health service. This means developing behavioural interventions to prevent ill health such as smoking cessation services, campaigns to encourage physical activity and to reduce alcohol consumption. Changing behaviours also helps in managing ill health through self-management programmes and insight led GP and patient communication projects. Behaviour change even has a role in organizational design in encouraging staff to adopt new technologies and services. Understanding how we can influence, change and maintain behaviours is key to the future survival efficiency of the NHS.


The Department of Health has led the way globally in looking at how to influence health behaviours. In 2007 they established the first government funded behaviour change unit, The National Social Marketing Centre. The Centre was set up to build social marketing capacity and skills within the NHS providing training, mentoring, benchmark standards, case studies, a national segmentation model, Healthy Foundations, conferences and workshops to support health practitioners deliver more effective behaviour change programmes.

Health & Social Behaviour Change

Although The DH no longer funds The NSMC, a now self-standing social enterprise, they and other organisations such as Sport England, still utilise social marketing as a way of delivering national, regional and local health & social behaviour change campaigns such as Stoptober and Change4Life, which are part of their three year social marketing strategy. They have recently established a new social marketing suppliers’ framework to support Sustainability Transformation Plans, with HPS Group being one of the suppliers on this framework.

In addition, there has been a growth of interest and use of behavioural economics as a way of influencing health behaviours over the last five years, since David Cameron put ‘nudge’ onto the summer reading list of his shadow cabinet front bench in 2008.

Both methodologies share a lot in common, their planning processes are very similar, they both have a focus on achieving behaviour rather than communication goals and they both look to make change as easily and attractively as possible. Most successful behaviour change approaches incorporate both methodologies, particularly as social marketing includes insight-led service and product design within its approach to influencing behaviour.

As the NHS looks to Sustainability Transformation Plans to deliver on its three main challenges - (the health and wellbeing gap, the care and quality gap and the finance and efficiency gap) - within constrained budgets and increasing demand - it is vital that CCGs and other health organizations focus their resources on the audiences and behaviours that will have the biggest impact on reducing health inequalities and the reducing demand on the NHS services.

Social Marketing

Social marketing provides a systematic evidence-based approach to planning targeted population-based behaviour programmes, based on understanding local areas' population needs and the behavioural determinants on people’s health. The HPS In-Health service, an effortless managed service developed by HPS Group, will give you tangible data and insights from your region enabling you to pinpoint key health issues requiring most attention. Using data-led insights, together we can prepare and activate strategy to implement targeted behavioural-change marketing campaigns to improve the efficiency of specialist health areas and address issues focussing on prevention, early diagnosis and support, all the while ensuring your campaigns have the greatest return.




Evidence references


Guest blogger, Patrick is a founding Director of The NSMC and leads on the communications, training and capacity building work streams.

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