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.
Ethics in Public Relations are vital to public trust, and the Government Communications Service should be primary upholders of those professional ethics. Call me naive, but I’m actually really shocked by this. https://t.co/lRx3A5EsiQ— Polly Cziok (@PollyCziok) August 27, 2021
Unbelievable. The government has literally ordered the NHS to lie and describe refurbs & internal building projects as “new” hospitals.— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) August 26, 2021
All to fake their “48 new hospitals” pledge.
I think this stinks.
Please RT if you do too. https://t.co/A0g55aBuGP
The 'New Hospital Programme Communications Playbook' is the kind of thing that gives PR a bad name https://t.co/cXHmho1Mk1— Maxim (@Maxim_PR) August 27, 2021
load of nonsense @DHSCgovuk— Dr Tony Goldstone (@goldstone_tony) August 26, 2021
“A communications “playbook” for the government’s NHS building programme tells trusts major refurbishments and new wings/units “must always be referred to as a new hospital”
Surely a new hospital should be a “new hospital”?!https://t.co/T7CkPV68AZ
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.