DHSC tells NHS trusts to badge projects as ‘new hospitals’

So-called “communications playbook” says additional wings and refurbishment schemes should all be classified as part of flagship government drive
Comms blitz: health secretary Sajid Javid Credit: PA

By Jim Dunton

31 Aug 2021

The Department of Health and Social Care has produced a guide that urges NHS trusts to be flexible in their definition of “new hospital” so that a range of major construction projects qualify as part of a flagship government drive.

The document, titled the “New Hospital Programme Communications Playbook”, was sent to NHS trusts earlier this month, according to sector bible Health Service Journal. The publication outlines what ministers would describe as a new hospital and orders trusts to refer to the government’s 2019 general election manifesto pledge to build 40 new hospitals by the end of the decade in press releases.

So far, 32 of the 40 projects that will make up the drive have been identified. Last month, health secretary Sajid Javid launched the bidding process for NHS trusts keen to take up the remaining eight places. To make matters more confusing, the New Hospital Programme also includes eight projects that predate the manifesto pledge, meaning the government is committed to build 48 new hospitals by 2030.

HSJ said a leaked copy of the comms playbook that it had seen stressed to NHS trusts that the schemes forming part of the programme were “not all identical” and would “vary across a number of factors”.

But it added: “They do all satisfy the criteria we set of what a new hospital is, and so must always be referred to as a new hospital.”

The playbook said projects that could be described as a new hospital included: major new clinical buildings on existing sites; new wings of existing hospitals, provided they contain a whole clinical service, such as maternity or children’s services; or a major refurbishment and alteration of all but a hospital building frame or main structure.

It said that to qualify, a refurbishment project would need to deliver “a significant extension to useful life which includes major or visible changes to the external structure”.

HSJ sad its copy of the guidance clearly stated that when NHS trusts were promoting the programme they must mention the government’s manifesto commitment. It also proposed the following explanation: “The government has committed to build 40 new hospitals by 2030, backed by an initial £3.7bn. Together with eight existing schemes, this will mean 48 hospitals by the end of the decade, the biggest hospital building programme in a generation.”

The document also warned NHS trusts that press announcements related to the New Hospital Programme required “clearance from the DHSC”.

A DHSC spokesperson said each of the hospital building projects in the programme would be “new hospitals delivering brand new, state-of-the-art facilities” that ensured world-class provision of healthcare by replacing outdated infrastructure.

“It is not uncommon for existing hospital sites to accommodate multiple hospitals, and there are numerous hospitals which specialise in one area of care or are co-located – they are all nonetheless hospitals,” they said.

“In some cases, that will be whole new hospitals on a new site, and in other cases, a new hospital on an existing site with dedicated facilities for particular conditions, such as cancer.

“We have issued guidance to trusts in the programme to support communications around the plans for their schemes, which is standard practice.”

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