In my last post I mentioned an older rant about an unsolicited device that arrived through the mail purporting to help save the planet by reducing the consumption of water in my shower.

It had occurred to me that most of my stories about the private sector included a wee homily about their relevance for the public sector but the shower device story hadn’t.  I said I’d rectify that, so here goes.

Once upon a time, and it was a while ago, the NHS in part of this United Kingdom of ours decided that too many children had bad teeth (“dental caries” as the experts say).

Pondering the causes of this they decided part of the problem was that parents did not get their toddlers into the habit of brushing their teeth.  So along with a lot of other activity (workshops, postcards et al) they decided to distribute free packs of starter toothbrushes and toothpaste that would be given to parents when they had contact with the health service.

This is what happened in one area.

The manager responsible for health improvement was sitting innocently at her desk when there was a phone call from the office caretaker.

“I’m down at the loading bay,” he said “and a pallet’s just arrived for you.”

Curious at a “pallet” arriving for her that she had not been told about, she set off for the office basement to find said pallet and the caretaker saying “It can’t stay here.  There isn’t room.”

Together, they opened one corner of the shrink wrap around the pallet to find that it was full of cartons containing small toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste.  Further examination revealed a letter that said more information was on the way.

It was.  A letter arrived describing the campaign I outline above.

Caretakers are usually right but the manager craved his indulgence to keep the pallet in the basement until she could work out what to do with it.

The only answer she could think of was to divide the contents into bite-sized (sorry) chunks and distribute them throughout the area to the staff who were going to have to ensure they got to the parents of young children – public health co-ordinators, health visitors, clinics, dentists and so on.

This really only shifted the problem on as most of her colleagues also lacked storage space.  But at least they’d only have to deal with smaller parts of the overall consignment until they’d been trained and familiarised with the programme.

To cut a long story short, the brushes and tubes of toothpaste were eventually passed into the not always grateful hands of parents.

Feedback about the success of the programme started to trickle back.  The conclusions were what any parent of a small child will recognise.

  • The toothbrushes were all one type and size – not all the children could cope with them (if in doubt about this check in your local pharmacy for the packs they sell with three types of “brush” for different stages of infant development)
  • The toothpaste was all one flavour – lots of the children didn’t like it (what you might call the mint vs. strawberry dilemma).

Lots of the brushes and tubes were never used.

This is exactly like my shower attachment.

  • Someone assumed they knew what I wanted – I wasn’t asked
  • It arrived out of the blue
  • It didn’t work for me (wrong fitting).

So as I’ve said many times before there is no essential difference between work in the public and private sectors of the economy.  It’s good to know they both have the same lessons to learn.