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Purdah/ Pre-election guidance for NHS colleagues - 17 March 2015

Purdah/ Pre-election guidance for NHS colleagues - 17 March 2015

What is Purdah?

The term ‘purdah’ refers to the pre-election period when specific restrictions apply around the activity of civil servants. Purdah for the 2015 general election begins on Monday, 30 March, and ends when a new government is formed. Parliament will be dissolved the same day and members of parliament revert to being members of the public.

This pre-election period prevents announcements and activities by public bodies, which could influence or be seen to influence the election.

Timetable for the General Election:

  • 18 March – Budget and 50 days until the election
  • 30 March – Dissolution of parliament and start of pre-election “purdah”
  • Early April – Party manifestos published
  • 2, 16 and 30 April – Likely dates of leaders’ TV debates
  • 7 May – General election, with a new government expected to form over the subsequent 7 to 10 days.

Rules and regulations covering the purdah period:

Guidance around purdah is mainly applicable to civil servants in UK departments and is about their role and conduct during election campaigns. However, it is important that NHS staff are aware of it. Guidance is expected shortly on the Cabinet Office’s website, but the general principles are:

  • “The government retains its responsibility to govern, and ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character.”
  • “Decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.”
  • Civil servants should answer constituency correspondence from former MPs, avoiding individual cases becoming party political issues.
  • Special advisers who will be involved in the campaign must first resign their appointments.

What this means for NHS organisations and its staff:

Although there has been no recent update to official guidance for the NHS, there is guidance from the Department of Health in 2010, which you may find useful. However, the key general principles are:

  • No activity should be undertaken which could be considered politically controversial or influential, which could compete for public attention or which could be identified with a party / candidate.
  • NHS providers have discretion in their approach to visit requests, but must be able to demonstrate the same approach for every political party and official candidate in order to:
  • The NHS will be under the media spotlight, locally and nationally. Therefore plans are in place for:
    • how the organisation will manage the purdah period (with both its risks and its opportunities)
    • the potential for the organisation or its partners to be singled out in the media.
    • avoid allegations of bias or pre-judging the electorate
    • ensure you will be able to form a constructive relationship with whoever wins the seat.

In light of this guidance Musgrove Park Hospital has decided that it will only allow propsective Parliamentary Candidates for Taunton Deane to visit the hospital together on one planned occasion before the purdah period begins.  This will offer all candidates equal opportunity to access the hospital and minimise disruption and impact on colleagues and services.

Any colleagues that have a personal interest or activity around the General Election are asked to ensure that they are clear that they are acting on behalf of themselves, and not Musgrove Park Hospital or the wider NHS in any political activism or public debate.

Colleagues are not permitted to use any official premises, equipment (including uniforms) or information they would only have access to through their work and which is not publically available for campaigning purposes. Naturally, patient confidentiality must be preserved at all times and normal professional conduct and contractual rules apply as usual in this respect.

In addition to this, any requests by political parties or candidates to come on site at any time (either prior to, during or after the General Election) should be passed through to Claire Ward-Willis, Head of External Communications, on: 01823 344546 or email claire.ward-willis@tst.nhs.uk