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

NHS England’s long-awaited “phase three letter” calling for non-covid health services to return to “near-normal” performance before winter was published on Friday.

And the well-rehearsed NHS planning dance swiftly followed (don’t lie, I know you all know the moves): Pick any guidance you fancy in the last five years and you will see a similar sequence of events: the centre sets out a variety of super-stretching targets and trajectories designed to return the system back to parity; local leaders warn they are unrealistic; the targets are duly not delivered.

The remainder of 2020-21 looks set to follow the familiar jig, but with some unfamiliar targets.

And this being 2020, a few things are different — read our new Recovery Watch briefing to find out what to expect.

Research and deficit

A group of senior research directors have highlighted the very real prospect of major job cuts and funding shortfalls unless the government takes immediate action to stem huge decreases in commercial research and study.

UKRD, a network of research leaders, have sent a devastating analysis to the Department of Health and Social Care highlighting concerns shared across the country.

The impact statement, which the DHSC says it is “considering”, showed that among 50 NHS organisations surveyed 90 per cent reported “major financial risks”.

The work shows that should activity levels stagnate at the same levels seen in April the NHS could lose £447m through commercial income and savings made through findings. Additionally, 5,000 fewer research and support staff would be needed as a result.

It was also highlighted by organisations interviewed, there is a significant lack of guidance over how they will be reimbursed for covid-19 research too.

Yet again, it seems muddled advice and support from the centre has impacted the very people it praises for efforts to tackle covid. Should it spend too much time “considering” the public health impacts may be felt acutely and cost the NHS millions in the process.