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

Coronavirus update

The health and social care secretary has said NHS staff should be able to publicise concerns about the covid-19 crisis, despite reports some people had been ‘gagged’ by trusts and other bodies.

Matt Hancock told the daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday that NHS staff should “feel free” to talk about what is happening at work, such as personal protective equipment shortages.

That’s despite HSJ hearing from several senior local NHS leaders they have been given strong warnings not to speak out about the covid-19 response.

There have also been reports of staff being threatened by disciplinary action if they raise concerns on social media or speak to journalists.

Asked whether he would guarantee no NHS staff will be punished for publicising legitimate concerns, Mr Hancock said: “Yes, of course people should be able to talk about the problems that there are.“

Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear the temporary Nightingale hospitals will not be widely used to tackle the initial peak in coronavirus cases.

The original facility in east London remains largely empty, as do the Manchester and Birmingham equivalents.

On Tuesday, another Nightingale in Harrogate, Yorkshire, was given a big opening ceremony. But it will not start taking patients for the time being.

In many ways this is good. The NHS planned for the worst, and the worst didn’t happen.

The hospitals’ time may also come in the coming months, as the NHS looks to restart some of its normal services.

This is certainly the plan in London, where regional leaders believe the Docklands Nightingale will be vital in getting normal services up and running, by taking pressure off the intensive care units in the primary hospitals.

One HSJ reader pointed to one possible way forward: “They are there for June, July, August and especially the autumn when we all start going about our business again and covid cases rise. The Nightingales can become ‘hot’ then whilst the rest of the NHS tries to get over the hangover…

“The hospitals in the region are coping ONLY because our usual demand has disintegrated. If we had our usual demand the covid wave would have overwhelmed us weeks ago.”