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Purdah – guidance for professionals


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Friday, 15 November 2019

Purdah – guidance for professionals

After Christmas and the HSJ Awards, purdah is Martin Plackard’s favourite time of year.

Like his fellow communications professionals up and down the country, NHS Blithering’s director of integrated communications and knowledge services relishes the challenges that accompany the virtual news blackout at election time.

Purdah is one of the few occasions when the communications people feel as if they are in charge. They no longer need to go cap in hand to senior management to sign off the latest report or jump through hoops to get their social media campaigns approved. All such activity is put on hold until after the election.

For five weeks, hundreds of Plackards have a brief respite from explaining to hundreds of Sir Trevor Longstays why it’s necessary to keep staff informed and why even the public sometimes need to be told what’s going on. During purdah, this is even less necessary or desirable than ever.

Here are Plackard’s simple rules for staying safe in purdah.

  1. Don’t announce or comment upon policies or spending plans. This includes anything that could be construed as an attempt to influence voters or to favour one political party over another, such as the reconfiguration of hospital catering services or the formation of a new over-65s walking club by a local GP surgery. If in doubt, say nothing. Use the time you would have spent reaching out to stakeholders to create some some new infographics or planning your next suite of resources.
  2. If you really must communicate, stick to advice about flu jabs, staying warm, moderate alcohol consumption, responsible use of antibiotics, taking exercise and healthy eating.
  3. The public will continue to rely on CCG Twitter feeds for weather alerts just as they do the rest of the year, but take particular care to stay politically neutral. Feel free to use the following example as a template for your news on social media:

    It’s going to be another wet day in Blithering. Remember to take an umbrella if you’re going out. If you do get wet, think twice before going to A&E. Your local GP will have towels or will be able to refer you to a more appropriate local service #SocialPrescribing #DrierTogether

  4. It’s safe to talk about subjects where there is little or no risk of getting tripped up by details or facts, such as sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) and integrated care systems (ICSs). Do not imply that these are legal entities with formal powers or that they may exist at some point in future. If you mention the ICS, restrict your comments to evolving governance arrangements and possible enhanced scrutiny roles for health and wellbeing boards. This should put an end to any further interest in the topic. In the unlikely event that your STP/ICS is doing anything apart from holding meetings, do not comment except to say that you are working towards a target operating model for strategic commissioning, that there are exciting opportunities for working as a system and that engagement with local authority partners is going well.       
  5. Do not comment on GP shortages, missed A&E targets or lengthening waiting lists in detail. Defer instead to generalities such as, “primary care networks will sort that out” or “everything will soon be fine, as we said in the NHS Long Term Plan”.

Apolitical editor: NHS Networks


mike etkind
mike etkind says:
Nov 16, 2019 11:21 PM

So true. My ICP cancelled a monthly meeting they have with the voluntary sector and patient reps for purdah reasons saying "We have been advised to cancel this meeting based on the agenda we had planned". Who knows what earth-shattering issue was single-handedly going to upset the political balance of power in my area??! Or even persuade a single voter to change their mind?! The last minutes of the now [intended-to-be] monthly meeting of these meetings published on their website were for May [2019]...