Government slated for comms advice on 'new hospitals'

The CIPR has criticised "ill-judged" new advice from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that says NHS trusts should always refer to hospital refurbishments, including new wings, as "new hospitals".

Health Secretary Sajid Javid visits St Thomas' Hospital in London, 28 June (photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Health Secretary Sajid Javid visits St Thomas' Hospital in London, 28 June (photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The DHSC has met with a backlash over the advice, which is included in the department's 'New Hospital Programme Communications Playbook' and was first reported in the healthcare title HSJ.

According to media reports, the Playbook says trusts should also reiterate the commitment from Government ministers to open 48 "new hospitals" by the end of the decade. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has previously been criticised for making the claim, with critics saying not all of the 48 hospital projects are new.

Medical and comms professionals have been among those to question the comms advice.

CIPR president Mandy Pearse said: “Accuracy and honesty in public sector communications are important in maintaining public trust. This comment within the Playbook is ill-judged. I have every confidence that health PR professionals will act ethically and with integrity and describe capital spending in a way that is accurate for their local situation. We remind members that the CIPR code of conduct requires them to maintain the highest standards of integrity while dealing honestly and fairly with the public.”

PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: “It is important that public communications are factual and neither misleading nor exaggerated. To any normal person, a new wing does not equate to a new hospital. In the interests of public confidence in such announcements, we would urge honest, straight-forward accuracy.”

A spokesperson for the DHSC defended the new advice, saying: “We have committed to build 48 hospitals by 2030, backed by an initial £3.7bn. Each of the hospital building projects will be new hospitals delivering brand new, state-of-the-art facilities to ensure world-class provision of healthcare for NHS patients and staff by replacing outdated infrastructure.

"It is not uncommon for existing hospital sites to accommodate multiple hospitals and there are numerous hospitals which specialise in one area of care or are co-located – they are all nonetheless hospitals. In some cases, that will be whole new hospitals on a new site, and in other cases, a new hospital on an existing site with dedicated facilities for particular conditions, such as cancer.

“We have issued guidance to trusts in the programme to support communications around the plans for their schemes, which is standard practice.”

This article was updated on Friday afternoon with comment from Francis Ingham.

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