Blue lozenge 25: Celebrating 25 years of the national rollout of the NHS brand

This month we’re celebrating 25 years since the national rollout of the NHS brand.  Following an intelligent rebranding exercise in 1999, the new identity replaced 600 brand and sub-brands to create one corporate identity. The NHS ‘blue lozenge’ became synonymous with One NHS and it became a unifying symbol of national pride.  

It is from this that we developed our own company name as we seek to personify the same values of collaboration and integration. But how did the NHS brand become so iconic?

How did such an iconic brand come into being?

Whilst the blue Pantone 300 lozenge and the Frutiger bold italic ‘NHS’ lettering came into being much earlier, the national rollout of the NHS brand began in earnest in April 1999. Since then, it has endured and has been the centrepiece of government healthcare policy. 

In 1999, Labour formalised the move away from a healthcare model that aimed to treat people on an illness-by-illness basis and towards a system that can handle complex needs that require cross-departmental co-ordination. It replaced the internal market with 481 Primary Care Groups (PCGs). These PCGs were to operate under a unified NHS identity. 

It can be hard, even for those of us old enough, to remember how we viewed the national health service before the unified NHS identify was introduced. It was likely that we simply thought of our own local doctor and hospital. A 2015 NHS England study found that people viewed the NHS logo as having been there “forever”, when in fact it had been a common sight for the public for less than two decades at that point.[1] 

Since the logo’s introduction, the NHS model has evolved numerous times. Over time, PCGs became Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which then became Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) before the introduction in July 2022 of Integrated Care Boards (ICBs). Through all of these evolutions and successive governments, no parliament has made any fundamental changes to the NHS identity. 

The appearance of the NHS logo in Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony

Source: BBC

Film director Danny Boyle understood the power of the NHS brand and featured it prominently in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the logo and its design elements were used to rally the public around social distancing rules and provide visible public support to England’s healthcare workers. 

Today, the national corporate identity of the NHS brand has endured for 25 years more or less unchanged, a 2017 tightening of usage guidelines aside.[2] In a world where corporations undergo rebranding exercises every few years, the NHS logo, like the health service it represents, has held remarkably steadfast and dependable.  

At the time of the national rollout, as is often the case, the investment in communication and branding in the NHS was mistakenly criticised. However, the longevity and impact of that brand cannot be underestimated. It is a testament to the power of simple, powerful strategic communication in healthcare.  

We’ve asked some well-known experts and members of the public their thoughts on the brand, why they think it’s endured and what they think the future holds. Take a look.