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

Turning art into science?

How do you spot the next Mid Staffs?

This is a question that has preoccupied many NHS leaders and their government masters since the scale of the care failings at Stafford hospital began to become clear.

In truth, the NHS has always operated in the dark about where the most serious failures will emerge. Increased regulatory scrutiny has helped, although the opportunity costs of inspection and reporting overload are hard to calculate. It may be that in a system as complex as the NHS, and organisations as multifactorial as hospital trusts, spotting impending disaster will remain as much an art as a science.

However, Listening into Action thinks it has identified one possible crystal ball. Their analysts’ annual scatter map showing a trust’s comparative performance on the NHS staff survey has long been awaited with trepidation and anticipation by chief executives. LiA has now attempted to refine its analysis to focus on those elements of the staff survey which are most telling about an organisation’s ability to maintain or improve care quality.

HSJ exclusively presented this new analysis on Monday. HSJ subscribers will have immediately noticed the usual suspects at either end of the rankings. No surprise to see Jim Mackey’s Northumbria taking poll position or that their relatively near neighbour, the merger stricken North Cumbria, picks up the wooden spoon.

But there are some surprises too. The plight of the ambulance sector is laid bare in the starkest of ways and it appears there may be a potential problem at the “good” rated James Paget and that the scandal-struck West Suffolk has been too harshly judged by the Care Quality Commission.

Perhaps most telling is the cluster of struggling acute trusts which include United Lincolnshire, South Tees, Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn, Walsall Healthcare, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole, Southport and Ormskirk and Shrewsbury and Telford.

Is one of them the ‘next Mid Staffs’? If the answer is ‘yes’, those running the NHS cannot say this time they were not forewarned.

Coronavirus insight

The outbreak of coronavirus covid-19 has many across the NHS wondering what they will do to cope.

Some are considering the sharp-end of the likelihood of running out of intensive care beds.

For others there are practical actions to enable primary care and other day-to-day interactions to go on: According to NHSX director of digital experience Polly Bishop, the question is whether now is the time to take the plunge to go digital.

“Through the coronavirus, there may be a way of us forcing the pace and learning the benefits on what we can do [in digital healthcare],” she told an event at Commons late last week. “We will also learn what doesn’t work.” She later clarified to HSJ that tech would be used to ease the strain the virus was already putting on the NHS, rather than being forced upon patients happier to do things in a more analogue fashion.

It appears under pressure GPs are keen to make the switch. Digital healthcare provider Refero has said it has been contacted by more than 200 surgeries after offering digital consultations to public sector bodies for free to help reduce pressure caused by coronavirus.

The NHS is not only being asked to reconsider how it operates but what it operates with as the illness continues to spread. Last week, national procurement body NHS Supply Chain began “managing demand” for seven hand sanitiser products, although the organisation does have more than 110 hand sanitiser and alcohol gel product lines in its catalogue to choose from.