The Department of Health is understood to be developing new guidelines and campaigns based around its controversial Patient Choice policy, which came into force at the start of the year.
An awareness campaign explaining the new scheme to patients is being launched across the UK. Meanwhile, the department is in the process of preparing guidelines to oversee the marketing efforts of NHS trusts now they can compete to attract patients.
The new policy says doctors must offer patients a choice of four different hospitals for treatment. The list can include private facilities, and that has led to some NHS trusts announcing that they will attempt to woo patients with advertising campaigns.
University College London hospitals trust has said it is considering running ads on the internet and buses to highlight its low MRSA infection rates and state-of the-art facilities. Another trust in Birmingham has commissioned research to help develop market share.
At present, there are no restrictions on marketing spend or the type of advertising healthcare organisations can commission.
A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says: “Other publicly-funded bodies like The Army advertise. Hospitals would simply need to be able to substantiate what they say.”
He explains that at present, ads in specialist trade press aimed at influencing GPs would not fall under the remit of the ASA.