Pre-election period: dos and don'ts for the NHS

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What and when is purdah?

‘Purdah’ is the period shortly before an election or referendum when specific restrictions on the activity of public bodies, civil servants and local government officials are put in place.

Local elections

For local elections, purdah (or the 'pre-election period') came into force on Thursday 13 April, in the run up to the local elections being held on Thursday 4 May 2017. 

Thirty-four councils in England will hold elections. Six areas will be voting for "combined local authority mayors" including in Greater Manchester where the successful candidate will have control over the area's devolved health and care budget. Two areas, Doncaster and North Tyneside, will elect local authority mayors.

General election

In relation to the general election being held on Thursday 8 June, purdah will start on Saturday 22 April. Parliament will be dissolved on Wednesday 3 May, meaning the last sitting day will be Tuesday 2 May.

What does it mean for the NHS?

Purdah has implications for NHS organisations, including the arm's-length bodies such as NHS England, CQC and NHS Improvement over this period.

During these periods, communications either in the form of announcements or activities by NHS organisations should be avoided if they could influence, or be regarded as influencing, the outcome of elections.

With health and care issues high on both the political and public agenda, here are our hints and tips for any communications activity during purdah.

If in doubt, always refer to Cabinet Office guidance

Do

  • Confine your communication activities and announcements to those necessary for the safety and quality of patient care.
  • Consider whether you will allow visits from all your local prospective councillors/local political parties/campaign groups and what format they will take. It is your decision whether to invite them or not. If you do, remember to keep your policy around visits consistent and impartial. 
  • Keep any communications with local candidates/political parties/campaign groups to a factual and apolitical basis – apply the same approach to any communications with the media and in the public sphere.
  • Continue to conduct normal business and adhere to good governance and regulation.
  • Continue to plan campaigns post these two periods of purdah.
  • Familiarise yourself with the official guidance from the Cabinet Office.

Don't                                                        

  • Undertake any activity that could be considered politically controversial or influential, or could give rise to criticism that public resources are being used for party political/campaigning purposes. For example, allowing certain public awareness activities that could be deemed party political, market research and public rallies, and producing election materials or canvassing.
  • Be selective if you are inviting local prospective councillors/political parties/campaign groups to your premises – invitations should be sent to all or none.
  • Allow party political meetings to take place on your organisation’s premises.
  • Allow visits by local candidates/political parties, national and local politicians or campaign groups to your organisation to interrupt services or care for patients – make sure your staff are aware of any visits in advance. 
  • Launch large-scale PR campaigns during this period.
If you have any questions or need further information, please refer to Cabinet Office guidance 

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