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

Nice work if you can get it

Caps on pay for agency staff in the NHS have been in place for a number of years, and trusts are regularly held to account by NHS Improvement for overspending.

Yet interim managers sometimes seem an exception to this enthusiasm for reining in pay rates. According to HSJ research, one interim “very senior manager” cost his employer the equivalent of £700,000 a year, while the same trust was charged £300,000 for an estates director to do nine months’ work.

Two interim chairs appointed to trusts with particular difficulties were also paid at rates far above the norm.

Such high rates for interim board members may be less common than they used to be, but there has been a subtle shift in which roles are involved.

Chief operating officers now appear to command particularly high rates, reflecting the difficulty in appointing to these extremely challenging jobs and their vital role within trusts.

Interim finance directors no longer top the list of highly-paid temporary managers. Many have moved onto financial improvement/turnaround director roles, and the rates for these jobs don’t have to be shown in annual accounts in the same way as board members do.

Could some of them be being paid even higher rates?

IT woes

The need for investment in IT infrastructure used in primary care is well established, and two issues revealed this week could boost the case further.

Firstly, an error in an IT system used by thousands of GP practices means patients around the country could have been given the wrong medication.

A paper that went to the board of NHS Digital on Wednesday records two ongoing “clinical safety incidents” in one of the two major GP IT systems used in England.

On 14 August, an error was uncovered whereby repeated prescriptions that were cancelled using TPP’s SystmOne software were not cancelled on other systems, such as those used by community pharmacists.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, dozens of GP practices have been without basic IT systems for eight days after an air conditioning unit failed.

A spokesman for Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven, Bradford City and Bradford District CCGs confirmed the air conditioning fault occurred on 10 October, forcing the shutdown of a regional data centre.

HSJ has heard reports that 96 practices had been affected.

Surgeries have been unable to access some IT services, including email, and have had to revert to paper and fax for referrals, electronic prescribing, and results and tests.

A back-up system has kicked in allowing GPs to view a patient’s electronic records and update the electronic record.