“The government has committed to the delivery of all 48 hospitals by 2030 — and these plans remain on track.”

The New Hospitals Programme Communications Playbook

August 26, 2021

Facts

The New Hospitals Programme Communications Playbook was published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as a guide for communications professionals working in NHS trusts. The Playbook reiterated the claim repeatedly made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other ministers that “The government has committed to the delivery of all 48 hospitals by 2030 — and these plans remain on track.”

The ‘Playbook’ provides a candid insight into how the figure of 48 hospitals has been reached, stating that “The schemes named in the announcement are not all identical and vary across a number of factors. However, 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 document says that the definition of a ‘new hospital’ embraces “a major new clinical building on an existing site or a new wing of an existing hospital, provided it contains a whole clinical service, such as maternity or children’s services; or a major refurbishment and alteration of all but building frame or main structure, delivering a significant extension to useful life which includes major or visible changes to the external structure”.

We estimate that only around 15 of the 48 hospital schemes can be classified as “new hospitals” in the sense of hospitals that previously did not exist. The DHSC ‘Playbook’ casts important new light on the way renovations, rebuilds or new wings have come to be classified as new hospitals. The Playbook raises important questions about government integrity and about the politicisation of civil service officials.

In the era of client journalism the most revealing reporting often comes from outside mainstream media. The Health Service Journal, a specialist magazine devoted to policy and management in the National Health Service, deserves great credit for disclosing  the existence of the revealingly named New Hospitals Programme Communications Playbook.

Verdict

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) claim in its guide for communications professionals that the government was committed to 48 hospitals was false. Its ‘Playbook” nevertheless gave a shocking insight into the Boris Johnson government’s machinery of deception. The so-called Playbook also raises important questions about the integrity of the British civil service under the Johnson administration.

The Playbook was published by the Department of Health and Social Care, theoretically independent of any political party and part of the permanent government machinery. This government machine in the United Kingdom has not been - in theory and often in practice-  the servant of a single political party since reforms in the mid nineteenth century rooted out corruption and nepotism. Yet here is the British civil service caught red-handed pumping out Tory propaganda. The Johnson government can only deliver on its promise of 48 new hospitals by creating a new definition of a hospital. 

NOTE: On 10th January we sent an email to the Department of Health and Social Care drawing the attention of officials to our conclusion that this was “the British civil service has been caught red-handed promoting Tory propaganda” and inviting a reply. The DHSC has yet to respond. 

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