Hospital chiefs have been accused of "hypocrisy" for warning staff about being political ahead of forthcoming elections just a day after allowing a party broadcast to be filmed at Watford General.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS workers were urged last week "to be sensitive to the impact of [their] work on the outcome of the elections".
Yet the next day staff received an email from the trust chief executive detailing the visit of Labour leader, Ed Miliband, footage of which is planned for a broadcast a week before the European and local elections.
Chief executive Sam Jones
A member of medical staff at Watford General said: "This is completely hypocritical of the trust management and is also clearly double standards. They might claim Mr Miliband's visit was outside the so called Purdah but it is going to be shown right in the middle of it on May 14.
"They are clearly trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Surely the correct thing to have done would be to have the visit by Mr Miliband and not use anything involving hospital staff in a party political broadcast weeks later - especially if you are telling staff that during a set period they must not get involved In politics as hospital staff.
"I think the trust should remove its agreement for the footage to be shown. That would be the correct thing to do".
On Thursday, April 24, staff were sent a round robin email from the trust’s Antony Tiernan, director of corporate affairs and communications, warning about upcoming Purdah period, which traditionally starts around May 2.
The period relates to statutory advice that local authorities should not publish anything that "seeks to influence voters" until after the vote.
In his email, Mr Tiernan said: "With this in mind, we will be subject to what is called ‘Purdah’. This is a period of time during which we need to be sensitive to the impact of our work on the outcome of the elections and the election campaign.
"’Purdah’ applies to our hospitals as well as staff (in their work capacity). The impact on us is mainly in relation to public announcements, which could be seen to sway voters, visits by politicians and, generally, not do things which could bring us into disrepute in relation to political activity."
The next day, the trust’s chief executive, Samantha Jones, sent round another email detailing Ed Miliband’s fact-finding visit to two day visit, over Tuesday April 22 and Wednesday 23, to Watford General.
She added: "We took a number of photos during the event and it was filmed for a party political broadcast, which is due to aired on May 14."
This week the hospital said Mr Miliband’s visit had come before the purdah period. It also said the purdah advice had been issued to staff to prevent the getting themselves into a "difficult position".
Antony Tiernan, director of corporate affairs and communications, said: "The NHS is a non-political organisation and, as such, we must ensure our hospitals - and, in their professional capacity, our staff - remain impartial. This is particularly important during elections and in the period immediately before voting starts. This is often called ‘purdah’ and, for the forthcoming elections, starts on 2 May (the elections are on 22 May).
"As an organisation we welcome politicians visiting our hospitals so that they can better understand the work that we do and get to meet, and hear from, our patients and frontline staff. We welcome visits from all political parties and over the last year we have been visited by Jeremy Hunt MP (Conservative - Secretary of State for Health ) Norman Lamb MP (Liberal Democrat - Minister of State - Minister of State for Care and Support) and Ed Miliband MP (Labour - Leader of the Opposition).
"In the run up to elections we issue our staff with advice from the Cabinet Office which gives guidance on how hospitals and NHS staff should conduct themselves during the pre-election period (‘purdah’). This is to help ensure we do not impact on the outcome of the elections and to avoid staff being put in a difficult position."