Healthcare: At a Glance - NHS choice agenda gains momentum

IS THIS THE GOVERNMENT'S FREE CHOICE PROGRAMME?

That's right. The Department of Health last week announced that it was extending choice for patients. From the beginning of next month, anyone receiving routine elective treatment will be able to choose which NHS-approved hospital in England they go to. How did the DoH go about it?

By the old expedient of third party endorsement - in this case, by using the words of a patient who had a satisfactory experience of the choice agenda - at a launch briefing for journalists. The whole thing is based on the idea that 'choice is fundamental to the delivery of a personalised NHS'.

SOUNDS PERSUASIVE. WHO SAID THAT?

Health services minister Ben Bradshaw. He added that people want more control and more involvement in decisions about their illness and treatment. 'More choice will also help drive up quality and standards across the NHS,' he concluded.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN COMMS TERMS?

A broadening of how NHS trusts and organisations providing healthcare funded by the NHS communicate to stakeholders. For example, they will be able to promote their services to patients for the first time. As with much of healthcare comms, the emphasis will have to be on reliable, accurate information on which patients can base their new choices.

DOES THIS MEAN A NEW CODE OF PRACTICE?

Yes, with all marcoms activity overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority. It is a fairly tight code, with few surprises. As you would expect, promotional activity must respect the ethical guidance and professional codes of conduct of clinicians. Outlets for information include libraries and GP surgeries, while online comms will flow from a new NHS website.

ARE THERE OTHER PR KNOCK-ONS?

There is a huge public awareness programme to be undertaken: quite apart from promoting their services, all trusts have to ensure patients are aware of their right to choose.

WHAT IS THE LOGIC BEHIND MORE CHOICE?

No-one is, of course, likely to be in favour of less choice. But the Government also believes that empowered patients are more likely to take greater responsibility for their care and treatment and have a better experience of it. Further information www.dh.gov.uk www.nhs.uk.

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