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

Last month, health minister Ed Argar told a conference of NHS estates directors that the creation of the NHS Property Board was part of the “critical first step in ensuring the estate receives the attention it deserves as an enabler of care”.

It’s a little awkward, then, that the government’s outgoing adviser on NHS estates has told HSJ the Property Board has not lived up to his expectations.

In a candid and wide-ranging interview with HSJ, Sir Robert Naylor said the board lacks influence and the ability to make important decisions, and that its membership is too diluted with junior people.

Sir Robert said the board, which was set up following his landmark review of the NHS estate, was being “reconstituted” at the time of his departure from his government role.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the Property Board has been “replaced” by the Strategic Infrastructure Board”, though it is not very clear what the differences are. A DHSC spokeswoman said the new board has focused on leading the lessons of the pandemic and is now “setting new strategic direction”.

Sir Robert also said the NHS continues to lack the commercial nous to maximise its property, and he raised a controversial – yet necessary – question around how moving to a focus on systems instead of organisations risked a detrimental effect on the estate.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sir Robert said NHS estates had been pushed far higher up the NHS’ and government’s agenda in the last few years, symbolised by the New Hospital Programme.

The challenge for estates leaders now – he said – is to regain the impetus to transform the estate following 12 months of “lost progress” during the pandemic.

Pause on the peninsula

In what is the least surprising news from Cornwall in the last few months, the two NHS trusts in the county have decided to pause work on their long-awaited merger.

The county’s two providers are both very much in a recovery position, with Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust having drafted in two senior NHS directors to help the leadership while Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust is occupied with sorting out a governance mess left by the previous chief executive.

Delivering the merger, which was only announced last autumn, by next April was always going to be a big ask.

The trusts insist that the decision was taken after “feedback” from NHS England and the DHSC. 

They said the national bodies had recommended more time being spent on developing clinical models which will “drive our joint working and integration”.

Daily Insight hears from folk on the peninsula that the general view is also that no merger can happen until the trusts are in a far healthier state than presently.