The must read stories and biggest talking points in health

May day

Theresa May directed an offensive straight into traditional Labour territory in her first party conference speech as prime minister, by saying the Conservatives were now “the party of the NHS”.

The PM said the opposition had “abandoned the centre ground” and she criticised Labour for using the NHS to “divide” the country. “Every election, they say we want to privatise the NHS – and every time we have protected it,” she claimed.

Referring to the Five Year Forward View, she said the Conservatives had given the NHS the “money it asked for to meet its five year plan” – and that by increasing spending by £10bn between 2014 and 2020 the NHS would receive “more than its leaders asked for”.

She was called out for making this untrue statement by HSJ’s reporters, who also noted the contrast with Simon Stevens’ recent statements that he did not get what he asked for.

Ms May also singled out Jeremy Hunt for praise, despite (or maybe because of?) the controversy caused by his conference speech the previous day. She said the health secretary was “one of the most passionate advocates” for patients and NHS staff “that I have ever known”.

HMT pulls the strings

The strong arm of the Treasury is becoming ever more apparent in the efforts to recover NHS finances.

HMT was mentioned four times in a guidance document sent out to NHS providers on Friday, which has set out trusts’ financial targets and rules around the “sustainability and transformation fund” for the next two years.

The targets, issued to every trust, aim to bring the sector into balance in 2017-18, which appears to be the basis on which the Treasury agreed to three years of the STF to plug the deficit.

Although the baseline used for each trust was its current year target, trusts in deficit have had their control totals ratcheted down, while surplus trusts must also improve their position.

This is because providers must improve on this year’s sector control total by around 25 per cent for it to break even next year.

The task next year will of course depend on the level of deficit reduction this year.

Achieve the aim of “run-rate” balance heading into 2017-18 and things might just start to get easier for providers, but that still feels like a long shot.

Meanwhile, NHS Improvement appears to have heeded warnings about the “different incentives”, which could be skewing the financial performance data this year, and is considering another raft of providers that could be put into financial special measures.