The Conservative Party has been criticised for a “deeply dishonest” campaign leaflet designed to imitate an NHS prescription, with the party’s name barely visible in the small print.
Variations of the official-looking pamphlet titled “A prescription for a stronger NHS” have been delivered to voters in constituencies as far apart as Wimbledon, Leigh and Derby, with some recipients voicing their displeasure on social media.
With only one mention of the Conservatives on four pages, outside of small print, the leaflet instead refers to the importance of delivering a strong majority government and claims the NHS and its staff would suffer under Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories have been repeatedly accused of using misinformation in deliberate attempts to mislead voters during the general election campaign, with questions over Boris Johnson’s personal integrity also a key issue.
Fact-checking website Full Fact condemned the leaflets as “deceptive” and suggested the Tories' failure to “to make their case to voters openly and transparently” could undermine the party’s ability to govern if elected.
“Elections are won by small margins, and deceptive tactics rob people of the chance to make informed choices about who to vote for,” said Full Fact's chief executive, Will Moy.
“This kind of behaviour makes people lose faith in politics. And if a party loses voters’ trust before they are even elected, it will be harder for them to govern.”
He added: “Parties and candidates should have the self-respect to make their case to voters openly and transparently.”
The prescription-style leaflet effectively makes the case for Conservative manifesto pledges without stating they are Tory policies, such as the debunked promises of 40 new hospitals and 50,000 new nurses.
Mirroring typical NHS branding and style, one social media user claimed they only realised the leaflet was from the Tories when they noticed the slogan “get Brexit done” within the body of the text.
One version of the leaflet, sent to a voter in Wimbledon and seen by The Independent, reads on the front page: “With a majority government, we can continue to grow our economy. And provide more certainty for families and businesses. That means we can invest in public services like the NHS.”
The Tories' name is confined to small print on the front page, where it states the material is “promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Party”. Small text at the bottom of the back page – below larger print urging a “majority government” – reads: “Vote for Stephen Hammond and the Conservatives in Wimbledon.”
Mr Hammond beat Labour's candidate by fewer than 6,000 votes in the 2017 election and faces a challenge from the Liberal Democrats in the strongly Remain-supporting seat in this week's vote.
A Lib Dem spokesperson condemned the prescription-style leaflet as "deeply dishonest". They added: “We know that they will not, and have not protected our NHS.
“Brexit is already causing great damage to our health service with thousands of nurses and doctors from the EU leaving their jobs. The Tories are also flirting with a Donald Trump trade deal which could include the NHS, giving this leaflet no credibility whatsoever.”
The Conservatives have been approached for a comment.