At a glance: NHS starts consultation on self-promotion regs

What sort of consultation is this?
The Department of Health has asked for views on a proposed code of practice - its first - to cover NHS providers promoting their services to health professionals and patients.

‘Promoting', as in PR?
Exactly. In particular, the self-regulatory code will address promot­ion that is misleading, inaccurate, unfair or offensive. It is likely to apply mainly to providers of acute healthcare at present, but all parts of the NHS are expected to be covered eventually, although not public health campaigns.

Why not?
Because, the DoH says, they are about providing healthcare information and raising public awareness, rather than promoting a specific service. ‘We do not wish to restrict innovation around these,' a spokesperson explains.

What's the rationale for the code?
Because of the desire to offer greater patient choice, such as allowing people to have a say on which hospital they are treated at. The DoH says people need ‘good quality, comprehensive, comparable information on providers and their services'. Logically, organisations' comms activity will need to increase in this new ‘market'.

So what should PROs be looking for?
First, they should decode this message from Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. She says: ‘Through promotional activity, providers will develop a better understanding of the needs and wants of patients and GPs. This will enable them to respond and reshape services accordingly and deliver services that better meet those needs.'

What should be made of this?
Hewitt's words certainly have a ‘PR is positive' vibe. Pharma company PROs are already bound by codes such as the ABPI's, but expect this latest one to be big on protection of the NHS brand and reputation, and on controlling promotional expenditure.

What happens next?
Responses must be submitted to the DoH by 28 February. It says views from PROs are welcome.

For further information visit dh.gov.uk

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