The biggest stories and talking points in health and care

Quarterly warning

Another set of quarterly statistics provided further evidence that this winter was the worst for a very long time, while other datasets in the latest monthly NHS England data dump showed return to constitutionally mandated standards remained a long way off.

Data published on Thursday showed the number of NHS operations cancelled last minute hit the highest rate in over a decade in the last quarter of 2017-18 – and rocketed 20 per cent on the same period in the previous year.

There were 25,475 operations cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons by NHS providers between January and March 2018, up from 21,219 in the same quarter the previous year, according to NHS England data published today. This is on top of planned cancellations.

The Royal College of Surgeons raised concerns about the “unacceptable and exceptionally high number” of last minute cancellations. Patients were facing distress and pain and delays “could mean that their condition deteriorates”.

Performance against the 18 week, four hour accident and emergency, and various other targets remained below mandated standards. This is of course no surprise, but ministers must heed the warning that any long term plan must be built around getting existing performance targets back to parity before new demands are made.

Big money bonus

University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust has been awarded bonus payments of £35m after the sale of two assets, including its stake in a radiology joint venture, helped boost its reported surplus.

UCLH was able to trigger extra payments from the national sustainability and transformation fund after bettering its financial control total in 2017-18.

The sales of the Eastman Dental Hospital site and a stake in a radiology joint venture helped the trust deliver a £26m surplus against its underlying control total plan, which was to deliver a £5m deficit.

Because of the positive variance, the trust was awarded £35m of additional payments from the STF as well as its core allocation of £15m. After accounting for these payments, the trust expects to post a surplus of £76m.

The extra payments come from money originally allocated to other trusts but was withheld because they did not agree a control total or failed to meet their target.

Under rules set by NHS England and NHS Improvement, trusts that better their control total for the year can receive additional payments from the STF above their original allocation.

Analysis by HSJ last year revealed the huge imbalances being created by STF incentive payments, with some trusts becoming “cash rich” and others left “drowning in debt”. Many trusts missing out on STF must draw down interest bearing loans instead.