• Policy covers all external communications
  • Publicity over cancelled blood donor sessions led to reminder
  • Some ALBs unhappy about approval delays

Arm’s-length bodies are having to send all public texts, tweets, emails, phone calls and press releases that touch on Brexit to the Department of Health and Social Care for clearance – with some having to be approved by ministers and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

All health ALBs have been told to follow procedures for external communications after publicity earlier this month about blood donor sessions moving from the Dover area for six weeks to avoid potential traffic disruption during Brexit. The relocation – since overturned – was revealed in a tweet from the NHS Blood and Transplant Authority.

In an email leaked to HSJ, Rachel Carr, DHSC director of communications, said: “You will have seen the story in the media, earlier this week, about NHSBT cancelling blood donation sessions. This was not cleared either through the EU exit comms team, at DHSC, or through the secretary of state.

“At a time of some uncertainty, it is important the public gets consistent and clear information. We have been very clear with your EU exit leads that every piece of external communication must be cleared through us. I am confident your teams know this, and they have been working well with my team, but the right clearance processes were not followed on this occasion.

“Can you please reinforce the message with your teams that every piece of communication, from an email to suppliers, a letter, press notice and, in this case, texts and phone calls to the public, need to be flagged, and cleared, with my team. I also expect a representative to be on our weekly ALB comms call.”

Delays resulting from the requirements have annoyed some ALB teams, she acknowledged. “I know some of your teams have been unhappy with the length of time it takes to get things cleared but I can assure my team is working very hard to clear all communications as quickly as possible. It would make the process much easier if you are able to share as much information as possible in your forward schedule of planned activity.”

The clearance process involves ALBs sending all relevant communications to named communications officers from the DHSC who then check with the department’s EU Exit policy team, followed by clearance through the head of EU exit communications and ministerial private office, according to the email.

Communications which need clearance by ministers are sent to them at 12pm each day. Anything which needs clearance by the DExEU takes an additional two days.

A DHSC spokesman said: “We are in charge of ensuring the health and care system is prepared as we exit the EU including making sure our partners are communicating accurate and up to date information.

“Government departments routinely clear external messaging of their ALBs and this is part of our well-established assurance process.”

DHSC ALBs include the Care Quality Commission, NHS England, NHS Improvement, Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.