HSJ’s round-up of Monday’s must read stories and talking points

2017 will be all bad… or will it?

Ok, bear with us. It feels like 2017 is going to be pretty bad. We’ve got plenty of reasons why it will be too. Winter pressures are as intensive as ever this week - we’ve just revealed new details of what appears to be a horrendous situation in Worcestershire. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt is turning up the volume on moves announced before Christmas to effectively downgrade the four hour A&E target, to allow a “greater focus” on sickest patients.

Mr Hunt said: “We are committed to delivering the four hour commitment. If we are going to protect our four hour standard we need to be clear it is a promise to sort out all the urgent health problems within four hours, not all health problems, however minor.

“NHS England and NHS Improvement will continue to explore ways to ensure at least some of the patients who don’t need to be in our A&Es can be given alternative options building on progress under way with the streaming policy in the NHS England A&E plan. This way we will be able to improve the A&E experience for those with more minor condition and protect the four hour promise for those who need it.”

But if you are in search of hope among the darkness – or even some good new basis for your pessimism – read our new leader column.

Parity means parity, Theresa May reveals

The new tautology everyone in the media will take from prime minister Theresa May’s first major domestic speech on social reform in general, and mental health in particular, today is “parity means parity”.

But ignoring the next empty phrase used to boil down an extremely complex issue into a political soundbite, let’s sit back and think about what we actually learned from Mrs May’s speech.

We now know Mrs May wants to focus on improving mental health services for children and young people and employees in the workplace. But health secretary Jeremy Hunt has already said as much in previous statements, and we could have guessed that he and his boss would be singing from the same hymn sheet.

We also know there’s no new money. While the PM announced new policies packages worth more than £80m, we know that the cash is coming from existing budgets so those waiting for Mrs May’s intervention to herald a new wave of funding will have had their hopes dashed.

While there are lots of positives in Mrs May’s announcement, if these are left to gather dust on a shelf in Whitehall her proposed transformation will be more of a false start. She also dodged questions on how she would hold NHS leaders to account so that new mental health investment will be invested in the sector to build towards parity of esteem.

But making mental health a prime ministerial personal priority in itself has a certain weight in gold: it allows us to hold her and her government to account over their promises; it might make commissioners think twice before trying to slash mental health budgets; and  it will reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.