‘Would you walk by on the other side, if someone called for aid? . . .’ goes the Christian hymn that I was forced to sing during primary school assembles. At the time I found it amazing that some people would rather walk on by than consider helping someone, but it seems the adage is more pertinent now, during our increasingly insular existence, than it has ever been before. Why have I come to believe this? . . . Did I witness such a bastard recently? . . . No, but evidence suggests that there are such disreputable people among us. I say this, having pondered the nature of a new NHS campaign designed to heighten awareness about strokes. NHS adverts always fulfil their goal of grabbing my attention, as their morose and depressing messages – smoke and you will die, drink and you will die, do drugs and you will die, etc – stick out like a sore thumb among the depictions of people laughing heartily into one another’s faces with their minty-fresh breath, or frolicking gleefully, enjoying a life without the plight and anxiety of untimely bladder weakness.
The latest NHS ad, however, isn’t designed to reprimand the decadent pleasure seekers; it’s targeted at all of us. The only problem is that the NHS, in trying to raise public consciousness of stroke symptoms, have inadvertently manufactured something incredibly one dimensional and also very scary. On initial viewing I thought I may be watching a trailer for Shaun of the Dead II, but on realising that it was a genuine portrayal of reality, my knee-jerk reaction was to arm myself with a baseball bat and patrol the streets, bludgeoning old people to death lest they inexplicably turn into zombies.
If you haven’t seen it, the advert depicts a man/woman (the one with the woman is somehow more frightening) sat in a public place, quietly having a stroke. It starts with a small fire burning in their forehead (this piece is simulated, otherwise strokes would be very easy to diagnose), before the camera pans in for some extreme close ups of a half paralysed face, a lolling, lifeless arm, glazed, distant eyes and a general appearance of unease. During these scenes the acronym F.A.S.T (Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999) is spelt out, which unfortunately bears so little resemblance to the actual nature of the emergency, it is rendered pointless; it took me 10 minutes to remember what it was in order to write this piece – FACE? PACE? FACT? PACT? TUPAC? – during which time, any stroke victim in my company would have surely perished.
At this point I would like to stress that I am not heartlessly mocking stroke victims; I’m just puzzled by the message the advert strives to send out. The first point I would question is the slogan: ‘the faster you act, the more of the person you save’, maybe so, but the only advice they provide to facilitate this is: call 999; presumably, you then wait in a quivering state of agitation, praying that the ambulance is sent post haste and traffic conditions are reasonable. Surely people could benefit from knowing some basic first aid procedures – which do exist – that can be undertaken whilst waiting. The second baffling element is the specific targeting of this niche illness. Obviously the NHS must have found evidence to suggest that the public’s perception of stroke symptoms is so lacking that it is worth the airtime, but considering the multifarious ailments that have even more ambiguous symptoms, I find it hard to believe that it is just stroke victims that are being let down by our collective incompetence; in fact, I actually worry whether it is incompetence that they are being let down by.
When I saw the advert over the weekend, my first thought – after overcoming my terror – was: ‘oh dear, she doesn’t look to well, one of those people should call an ambulance.’ And I would have thought most other people would feel the same way – especially in a real life scenario – but I must be entirely wrong about that point. I assumed that helping someone in trouble was an instinctive natural reaction ingrained within our genetic makeup, but the need to advertise for help, says otherwise. Perhaps this advert is a telling Zeitgeist of the noughties. Maybe, subconsciously, we are all walking on by, oblivious to the troubles on the other side of the road—minding our own business, absorbed in our daily tasks, iPods on, phones to ear, we are less socially aware and, therefore, blind to the needs of our fellow citizens.
I hope my scepticism and belief in the oxymoron of globalized isolation is unfounded and this new campaign promotes awareness and, as a result, saves countless lives. If not, at least the NHS could be considered perspicacious in their development and trial of effective advertising against a post recession zombie banker pandemic.