Pre-election guidance for NHS organisations – General Election 2024

A general election will take place in the UK on Thursday 4 July 2024. This note sets out longstanding guidance which always applies to the NHS during the run-up to an election. Communication activities during a general election should avoid competing with parliamentary candidates for the attention of the public.

This note gives guidance to NHS organisations on:

  • the handling of requests for information and other enquiries during a general election campaign
  • briefing of MPs, prospective parliamentary candidates and ministers during the election period
  • carrying out business as usual activities during an election campaign

Please contact your regional NHS England communications team if you need any further advice (contact details can be found at the end of this note).

What is the pre-election period?

During the pre-election period, previously referred to as ‘purdah’, specific restrictions are placed on the use of public resources and the communication activities of public bodies, civil servants and local government officials.

The pre-election period is designed to avoid the actions of public bodies distracting from or having influence on election campaigns. The pre-election period has implications for all NHS organisations, although it is worth remembering that the NHS should always remain politically impartial.

When does it start?

The start of the pre-election period is 00.01 on Saturday 25 May, until 00.01 on 5 July or until the date at which a new government is formed.

Key considerations

You should ensure your organisation and staff behave impartially towards all candidates and political parties, and do not influence the election outcomes, whether inadvertently or intentionally.

As always during a pre-election period, there should be:

  • no new decisions or announcements of policy or strategy;
  • no decisions on large and/or contentious procurement contracts;
  • no participation by official NHS representatives in debates and events that may be politically controversial, whether at national or local level.

These restrictions apply in all cases other than where postponement would be detrimental to the effective running of the local NHS, or wasteful of public money. You should consider:

  • Requests for information from prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs): These should always be handled in an impartial manner so that information is made available to all candidates. Information should be factual, and candidates should be responded to in a timely manner.
  • Briefing and meeting prospective parliamentary candidates and ministers: Once Parliament is dissolved, every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant. All business in the House comes to an end and MPs stop representing their constituencies so there will be no MPs until after the general election. Any briefing provided to former MPs should be available to all prospective parliamentary candidates. During an election, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must carry on. Any briefings for ministers should be handled as per the usual process, ensuring any information shared is factual and provided promptly.
  • Consultations: No consultations should be launched during the pre-election period unless they are considered essential. Ongoing consultations should continue but should not be promoted. Consultation periods can be extended if it is expected that the pre-election period will impact negatively on the quality of the consultation. Consultation responses should not be published until after the pre-election period has ended. If you have an issue or any questions about if something should or should not go ahead during this period, your regional NHS England communications team will be able to advise you.
  • Media handling: Avoid proactive media work on issues that may be contentious. Reactive lines should be factual and, where possible, in line with previous lines. Any appearances on local or national media (TV, radio) should follow the same principles.
  • Events: Avoid attending events where you may be asked to respond to questions about policy or on matters of public controversy. This may mean withdrawing from previously agreed engagements.
  • Visits from prospective parliamentary candidates: Visits are permitted, but the decision to host visits is at your discretion. The same approach must be applied even-handedly to all visit requests from candidates/parties to avoid any question of bias. Any visits should not interfere with the day-to-day running of your service and you should be mindful of patient privacy and dignity.
  • Social media and web: Nothing contentious should be posted on your website or social media accounts. Updates/posts, including blogs, should only convey essential information.
  • Campaigns: Do not undertake any ‘paid for’ marketing campaign activity unless you have secured an exemption – for this you will need to demonstrate that the activity is operational and time critical (i.e. a public health emergency). Existing campaign activity can continue to be delivered through ‘owned’ channels as long as this does not breach the pre-election period guidance.
  • Board meetings: Board meetings should be confined to discussing matters that need a board decision or require board oversight. Matters of future strategy should be deferred.
  • Appointments of board members and non-executive directors: Appointments can continue as per the usual process unless you are concerned appointments may result in local political sensitivities, in which case, you may wish to postpone until after the elections. Exercise sensitivity over the timing of any announcements.
  • Foundation trust governor elections: There is nothing to prevent foundation trust governor elections taking place. As above, exercise caution if there are concerns these may become political. Again, any announcements should be carefully considered during this period.
  • Marketing: Printed materials, such as posters and leaflets, promoting contentious policy or proposed policy should not be given fresh circulation, but can be retained and issued in small numbers on request. Films and other media produced by the NHS, including the NHS logo, should not be made available for use by candidates/parties.
  • Staff activism: NHS employees are free to undertake political activism in a personal capacity but should not involve their organisation or create the impression of their organisation’s involvement.

Useful resources

The principles of this document are based on the Cabinet Office guidance.

Contact details

Please contact your regional NHS England communications team if you need any further advice:

For any additional questions, email the NHS England External Affairs team: with the subject “Pre-election period guidance” at the start of the subject line.