The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

The health service’s independent data watchdog has told HSJ she would like to see greater clarity over how NHS England will protect sensitive patient data.

NHSE took on the functions of the now-defunct NHS Digital on 1 February, meaning it is now both the custodian of patient data but also the organisation seeking to access it.

Draft guidelines over the protection of public data were published in the run-up to the merger in a bid to ease concerns, though some questions remained.

National Data Guardian Nicola Byrne told HSJ there is a “very clear policy intention to have as strong safeguards, if not stronger” than those of NHS Digital, but indicated the guidance was not clear enough.

Dr Byrne, who was consulted on the draft guidelines, questioned what these safeguards would “translate to in actual words on a page”.

She also shared concerns with HSJ over the new “hybrid” data advisory group which will replace the fully independent group IGARD which previously scrutinized data access requests.

While having members of NHSE on the board could be “very helpful”, Dr Byrne conceded that it would “have a “greater challenge to demonstrate that it’s trustworthy”.

NHS one, Taxman nil

It’s never a good look when the NHS takes the government to court, but sometimes it can be a risk worth taking for individual organisations – even if the taxpayer ultimately ends up footing the legal costs.

One such example has occurred in the West Country, where Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust successfully brought a judicial review against His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

The trust believed HMRC had wrongly denied it more than £3m annually in VAT refunds through goods and consumables purchased via a managed theatre service run together with Genmed.

Last week, the Upper Tribunal agreed with the trust after a four-day hearing.

The win not only gives GHFT a healthy amount of extra income, it also has the potential to set a precedent for other trusts which may want to set up similar arrangements with the private sector.

The trust told HSJ it “believed strongly in pursuing this not only on a point of law, but also on a point of principle”.

Its spokesman said the verdict meant the trust could “maximise public money” to deliver the best care possible.

However, the saga may not end here as HMRC has the option to appeal.

Also on today

NHS England’s recently published guidance on how elective recovery funding will be allocated in 2023-24 has caused considerable disquiet among trust finance teams, writes James Illman in Recovery Watch. And in a comment piece, Navina Evans says the structural shake-up of NHS England means it will “mainstream” its equality, diversity and inclusion work, rather than “parking it with a few”.