NHS advertising rules are expected to attract critics

The Government is set to come under fire as it allows National Health Service (NHS) providers to advertise their services without a pre-determined cap on the advertising spend. The surprise move is expected to trigger protest from critics who will raise questions about spending NHS money on advertising.

It was widely expected that the Government would ban television and cinema advertising because any disproportionate expenditure could damage the reputation of the NHS (MW February 28). But under the newrules announced today, NHS Trusts will be given the green light to allot “any amount”of money to market themselves, and also permit comparative advertising between hospitals.

Under the NHS Promotion Code, the Department of Health (DoH) will announce the launch of free choice for patients and the ability to choose where they have routine elective surgery from hospitals from April 1.

The code will also allow the NHS and GPs to self-regulate the way they advertise their services to patients and all NHS advertising will fall under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority.

The DoH will also announce the creation of a “co-operation and competition panel” that will allow Primary Care Trusts to seek advice when matters fall outside the remit of the ASA, including any issues relating to undermining the reputation of individual providers or health professionals.

The publication of the NHS Promotion Code follows a consultation process that began in late 2006 and was kick-started by the former secretary of state for health Patricia Hewitt.

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