The essential stories and talking points from Friday


A chill wind

There was a strong feeling at NHS Improvement that trusts’ financial plans were badly derailed by a lack of dedicated funding to cope with winter pressures last year.

Trusts had come to rely on extra funds to plan extra capacity each winter, but in 2016-17 monies were funnelled into commissioning budgets instead, with the intention of the cash still being made available, but to be better spent on “system resilience”.

Only, NHSI found “very little evidence” of the funds actually being made available, and that this led to hospitals having to pay for extra capacity and expensive agency staff at short notice, as well as losing large amounts of income from cancelled elective activity.

The regulator will be desperate to avoid a repeat this year, and Jim Mackey has today said urgent action is needed to address the bed situation.

The latest stats show extra government funding for social care has so far failed to reduce delayed discharges, so more upfront money to pay for more capacity looks like the only answer at the moment.

Without it, trusts will simply rack up a bigger deficit, which is no good for anyone.

Meanwhile, NHSI has claimed a “very strong start” to the financial challenge in 2017-18, after trusts’ official forecasts suggested a year end deficit of £523m, against the planned £496m.

Experience of recent years suggests the forecast will worsen throughout the year, and as per 2016-17, the ultimate aim will be to stay within the system “risk reserve”, which is expected to total around £830m. Therefore, so long as deterioration against the planned outturn is kept below £300m by the end of the year, NHSI will be reasonably happy.

Worryingly though, a look at the underlying figures suggests the plans involve more risk this year, as the deficit run-rate over the first three months is higher than the same period in 2016-17.

Spreading the love

HSJ has learned that NHS pension benefits have been wrongly denied to the unmarried former partners of NHS staff.

These “survivor benefits”, which include a lump sum and continuing pension payments, have long been automatically available to spouses, but cohabiting partners have been locked out unless specifically nominated.

Now, following a Supreme Court ruling in February, the NHS Business Services Authority, which administers the scheme, has decided unmarried former partners will be granted the same rights as widows and widowers.

NHS trusts will be asked for help in tracking down unmarried former partners of deceased NHS staff. They will be eligible to receive backdated payments.

There are 1.5 million active members of the NHS pension scheme and there are no firm estimates as to how many surviving partners of former staff could now come forward to make historical claims.