The must read stories and talking points in the health service

Cash crisis continues

The year-end deficit projection for the NHS provider sector has worsened by more than a quarter, NHS Improvement’s latest figures reveal.

The regulator this afternoon released the results for quarter two of 2017-18, which saw the predicted year-end deficit for providers worsen from £496m to £623m. The figure is after the impact of bailouts from the sustainability and transformation fund.

The decline was driven largely by the hospital sector, which is predicting an overall deficit of £1.34bn, increasing from £1bn predicted at the start of the year.

NHSI’s activity report said the drivers of the deficit position were “delays or failures” to achieve efficiency savings, cancellations of non-elective work in the face of emergency pressures and agency staffing. Non-pay overspending included education, training and research plus inflationary cost pressures.

HSJ revealed on the same day the lengths trusts are going to in delaying payments to suppliers.

More than a quarter of hospital trusts are now routinely delaying payments to their suppliers because of cash flow problems. Data collected from annual reports since 2014-15 shows a threefold increase in acute providers paying more than half their invoices late, with dozens of trusts reporting a steep rise in late payments.

Several trusts confirmed some suppliers have put their accounts “on stop” and refused to deliver further supplies because of late payments.

‘One stop shop’ or a waste of time?

NHS England is developing a new framework for technology, this time targeted at sustainability and transformation partnerships and accountable care systems.

It is early days, but signs are the framework could be important for suppliers wanting to sell to emerging local health systems.

For one, NHS England has shoehorned in several existing national “digital” programmes into the framework, most notably the global digital exemplars.

The exemplar programme has, in theory, both central funding (though most of this remains ethereal) and central leadership buy-in.

While far more modestly funded and less centrally controlled, it is closest thing the NHS has to a new National Programme for IT.

That alone would make the framework of interest.

But the scope appears far wider than selling tech products to local health economies, covering a wide range of what is essentially consultancy work on everything from workforce to care pathways.

NHS England believes this “one stop shop” will make it faster, cheaper, and safer for health economies to find partners in their journey towards a brave new world of joined-up accountable care.

But not everyone is convinced, with one supplier calling it a waste of time.

HSJ readers commenting on the story were also unconvinced, with one comparing the framework to the return of the National Programme for IT, and not in a good way.