HSJ’s round up of the day’s must read stories and debate

In the woods

At the headline level, the actions taken to “reset” NHS finances last summer have worked in so far as the Department of Health has reported a healthy looking set of accounts for 2016-17.

The revenue underspend of £563m is a significant improvement on the £200m overspend in 2015-16, and the department did not need to resort to the type of accounting adjustments that attracted so much concern last summer.

But in reality, the position has not changed that much over the last 12 months and balancing the books over the next two years will almost certainly be a tougher task.

Let’s remember that 2016-17 was the 5YFV’s year of plenty, and we’ve now entered the U-bend, where income growth reduces significantly over the next two years.

Meanwhile, the ongoing use of capital and transformation funding to plug holes in the revenue budget means the NHS has continued to lose precious time and resource needed to configure a sustainable model.

Spending on prevention and pharmacy services continues to be drastically cut, while funding for primary care remains more or less flat in real terms.

The provider sector was supposed to be in run-rate balance by now, but national bodies have had to accept a planned deficit of £500m for the current financial year. Experience from recent years suggests this is likely to be a best case scenario.

If operational performance continues to deteriorate, which could well lead to higher costs in the long run, it gets harder to see how this can be turned around under the current plans, especially for elective care.

The NHS is still very much in the woods, and in the words of NHS Improvement, there is a “long way to go” before it’s in the clear.

High calibre

Eighteen clinical leads and two senior clinical advisers have been appointed to lead 14 national reviews aimed at improving efficiency and reducing unwarranted variation in NHS

They will visit every trust running services in their specialty as part of the Getting It Right First Time programme.

Professor Tim Briggs, who chairs GIRFT, said the £60m programme had attracted a “high calibre group of extremely experienced and enthusiastic clinical leads”.