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A general election will take place on Thursday 4 July 2024. In the pre-election period, there are restrictions placed on public resources and communications. This is the period which used to be known as “purdah”, although that term is slowly falling out of use. These restrictions are in place so that decisions by public sector workers and the civil services do not intentionally or unintentionally influence the public’s voting.

It is not intended to prevent usual day to day decision making, or decision making where necessary which can still take place. It is usual for decisions which could be considered to be controversial to be postponed, provided that doing so would not be detrimental to national interest or wasteful of public money.

This pre-election period started from 00:01 on Saturday 25 May and will run until 00:01 on 5 July or until a new government has formed. The current government guidance can be found here. NHS England has also published guidance which can be found here.

Specific issues

NHS England’s guidance reiterates the longstanding convention that no new decisions or announcements should be made on policy or strategy, no decisions to be made on large or contentious procurements contracts and there should be no participation by official NHS representatives in debates that can be politically controversial either at a national or local level.

NHs bodies should ensure that they and there staff behave impartially towards all candidates and political parties, and do not influence the election outcomes, whether inadvertently or intentionally.

Requests for information The dealing of request for information should be dealt with so that candidates have access to factual information in a timely manner. Requests should be dealt with in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and within the deadlines set out in that Act. All candidates should be treated equally in dealing with responses.

Consultations No new public consultations should be launched unless they are essential. If a consultation is ongoing NHS England state that this “should not be promoted”. If necessary, the consultation period can be extended if the pre-election period will have a negative impact on the quality of the consultation. Any responses to the consultation should not be published until after the end of the period. The decision on how to deal with a consultation can be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Media Any contentious media work should be avoided and anything in the media should be factual. This applies for social media, websites, and events. Nothing should be published that could be competing with candidates for media attention. Nothing should be done that could put the political impartiality into question. No statements should be published that refer to future intentions and this is considered to be political statements.

Public campaigns should not be undertaken unless they are time critical. Any business as usual media can continue.

Communication staff should be advised accordingly and should consider the above guidance.

Visits by candidates

While visits by candidates are allowed the decision to host such a visit is at your own discretion. The same approach must be applied to requests from all candidates and parties to try and avoid bias. These visits should not impact on the running of day to day services and the dignity and privacy of patients. The government’s guidance provides that election meetings (as opposed to visits) should not be held on NHS premises.

Board meetings and appointment

Board meetings should only be about current matters which require board decisions or that require board oversight. Decisions on long term future strategy should be paused.

Appointments to board positions can be made though if it is thought that this could be politically sensitive the process should be postponed.

Governor elections

These can continue as usual, although there should be caution to ensure that these elections are not considered to be part of the wider general election process. If there is a risk that these elections may become political, then you may need to consider deferring governor elections.

Personal staff activism

Staff are able to undertake political activism but they should not create the impression that the organisation is involved.

Source: Hempsons

Date: 30 May

Posted in News on May 30, 2024

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