Collaborators: A farewell to the lunatic fringe

A health-sector partnership is helping to rationalise the party conference season.

The Health Hotel sounds like a puritanical guest house run by TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith, but in fact it exists only three times a year during a few alcohol-sozzled weeks at the seaside - the party conference season in the autumn.

The hotel is a partnership of 36 organisations, including charities, statutory bodies and trade associations. It was formed in 2004 when Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, realised she was travelling from hotel to hotel to attend different fringe meetings with the same people each time.

She concluded that such competition for audiences among organisations with similar policy interests wasn't necessary, and proposed a more 'ergonomic' way to run health events through collaboration, creating a one-stop shop for meetings.

The NHS Confederation contacted a variety of organisations in 2003, and 26 groups held a successful trial run at the 2004 Labour conference. By last year's conference season, 36 organisations, including Cancer Research UK, Help the Hospices, the trade union Unison and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, were members.

The hotel was present at all three of the main party conferences, holding more than 20 fringe events at each one and attracting more than 4,000 delegates in total.

The members do not all agree on policy issues, and there is rarely the need for a collective opinion. However, there are occasional administrative issues that require consensus, such as whether to accept corporate sponsorship.

Originally, one member could veto a proposal, but now there is a 70 per cent majority rule.

There are also moves to initiate more joint working away from the conferences.

Shonali Rodrigues, project manager of Health Hotel, says: "We might have a budget next year to be able to do some work throughout the year."

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