Hospitals should offer patients inducements to receive treatment during times when wards are less busy, new guidance on marketing in the NHS has suggested.

The guidance by the Chartered Institute of Marketing says that although hospitals generally cannot undercut the tariff they charge commissioners for services they could stimulate demand during slow hours by offering patients incentives.

“Holiday companies and airlines will change pricing depending on how far in advance you book holidays or airline seats and reduce costs if they have excess capacity that they want to sell.

“There is no reason why the NHS should not do the same,” the institute said.

Its suggestion came as Health England - the organisation set up to oversee the implementation of the 2006 white paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say - recommended the use of patient reward schemes to encourage healthier living.

Health England chair Professor Julian Le Grand said: “It is clear that one of the main problems facing individuals, the government and other agencies tasked with improving our health is that we reap the costs of most unhealthy activities in the future - and often the distant future - whereas we experience their pleasures and benefits today.”

HSJ’s conference Achieving Excellence In Customer Care is in London on 23 June. For details, visit