Today’s must read stories and analysis

Agency cap tightens

The four largest agencies supplying temporary medical staff to the NHS have seen a 24 per cent fall in turnover and a 20 per cent drop in gross operating profits.

HSJ analysed the latest annual accounts from Medacs Healthcare, Pulse Healthcare, ID Medical Group and Mayday Healthcare – which together saw turnover fall from £549.1m in 2015 to £415.9m in 2016.

The NHS introduced caps on agency rates in October 2015, and there has been a national drive to cut use of agency staff.

Gross operating profits across the four firms fell from £132.1m to £105.7m.

The NHS has managed to largely contain the increase in agency nurse costs but has struggled to make the same progress on agency medics.

No subtlety on STPs

Some mopping up from our trip to the Labour conference in Brighton, which finished on Wednesday:

HSJ reported the only concrete new announcement in shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth’s speech on Tuesday – the £500m extra it would commit to a winter pressures fund.

The £45bn he mentioned a Labour government bringing to the NHS had been in the manifesto, and (to be technical) that’s £37bn for the NHS, £8bn for social care.

But that will all be the same thing, he promised, as he would scrap sustainability and transformation partnerships and integrate health and social care.

HSJ readers will be aware of the irony of this, given that’s what STPs are supposed to do, but the conference greeted it with a cheer.

The Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health had a good conference. As well as a successful fringe session, the RCPCH will have been buoyed by Mr Ashworth promising an “all-out assault” on child ill-health – mentioning free school meals, expanding the family nurse partnership, reviving school nursing and banning junk food ads aimed at children.

The lack of subtlety on the health and social care question was put into contrast by a fringe session run by, erm, Conservative think tank Bright Blue the previous day.

This saw panellists, including Will Hutton, call for some kind of settlement on the issue.

The irony of the triumphal spirit in the conference hall is that the Conservatives’ election campaign was severely damaged by its frankness on the costs of social care, particularly their suggestion that old people might have to pay for some of it from the value of their houses.