HSJ’s round-up of Wednesday’s must read health stories

What the budget means for health

At first glance, the budget on Wednesday did little to change the outlook for NHS funding in the coming years, but there were some notable announcements by the chancellor:

  • There will be a new levy on the soft drinks industry from April 2018.
  • Most of the £520m raised in the first year will be used to boost school sports.
  • NHS England said the tax is a “major first step to what must be a comprehensive childhood obesity strategy”.
  • Also, public sector employers will have to contribute an extra £2bn to pensions in 2019-20.
  • Fines against banks will be used to pay for some NHS spending, including a helipad for a hospital in Manchester.

However, HSJ’s finance expert Crispin Dowler has taken a closer look at the budget documents, and reveals more potential implications for the health service that will make less cheerful reading.

The Hinchingbrooke question

News revealed on Wednesday that Monitor is allegedly “pushing hard” for Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Foundation Trust to acquire nearby Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust is arguably unsurprising.

System leaders have been dithering over what to do about Hinchingbrooke, one of the NHS’s smallest DGHs, for years, and merging it with Peterborough has been suggested many times before. It’s not an idea the leadership of either trust appears to be opposed to.

What could however be viewed as surprising is the timescale the regulator apparently wants to set. HSJ has been told the foundation trust regulator wants a deal done by April 2017, or even sooner.

A senior source warned this could result in a “rushed and acrimonious merger”. And well it might – the NHS’s track record on mergers is not good.

Evidence from at least one recent merger largely viewed as successful – Frimley Park Hospital Foundation Trust’s acquisition of neighbouring Heatherwood and Wexham Park Foundation Trust in 2014 – suggests certain conditions need to be place. The acquirer should be in a robust position, in terms of finances and quality; have a strong and stable leadership; and be able to call on the Department of Health for financial support.

Peterborough falls at the first hurdle, boasting one of the NHS’s largest structural deficits, forecast to be around £38m for 2015-16 (albeit the deficit is largely underpinned by a disastrous PFI deal).

It will be worth keeping an eye on what the trusts propose as their next steps, with an announcement expected in April.

50/50 controversy

The HSJ Women Leaders network’s ambition to achieve gender balanced boards by 2020 has split opinion on hsj.co.uk and social media.

On Wednesday we reported that Ed Smith, NHS gender diversity champion and chair of NHS Improvement, welcomed the 50/50 by 2020 goal. He said: “I accept that challenge and will work hard to drive that ambition through the NHS. Now let’s get to work.”

Other senior figures, including trust chief executives, have also pledged their support for the target, after it was set by the network in March.

Not everyone thinks a target is a good idea, however, as the debate on hsj.co.uk demonstrates.

While one reader said “equality and human rights matter greatly to us all, whether we are staff or patients – good on Ed Smith for taking up HSJ’s challenge”, a number of others called the target “PC nonsense”.