The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

“I’ve never known anything like it” – the reaction of one trust finance director asked about the level of efficiency savings they will be asked to make when the new financial year begins in a few weeks.

They’re not alone: despite a record funding uplift, trusts are facing hefty savings asks as high as 5 per cent, which one noted had “never been delivered by the NHS in a single year”.

NHS Providers said trusts are looking nervously at how much continuing covid-19 pressures and inflation will eat into their allocations, at the same time as they try to tackle care backlogs. Chris Hopson told HSJ it was “striking how many trusts are telling us that they are concerned by the scale of the efficiency savings they will need to realise.”

Inflation has already eroded a quarter of the NHS funding boost announced last October, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and is likely to take out more in the coming months.

Despite this, the think tank says there’s little hope of more cash for the NHS, which is just one of a long list of priorities facing the chancellor when he delivers the spring statement next week.

Another statistic in the covid war

One in four people with covid in hospital are likely to have caught the virus after being admitted for another health problem, the highest proportion of the whole pandemic.

Figures show that on Friday 11 March, 25 per cent of patients in English NHS hospitals had probably caught covid on a ward – this was the first time in the pandemic the proportion of covid cases which were hospital acquired were a quarter or more.  

The proportion of hospital caught covid was up to 24 per cent in the week to March 13 – the latest figures available. Again, this was a pandemic record for a single week.

Rising numbers of beds are being taken up by covid patients as cases rise again in the community. The BA.2 omicron variant – believed to be a key driver behind the latest resurgence in infections – makes infection control ever more difficult with its increased transmissibility and vaccine evasiveness.

It comes after pressure from government ministers and senior clinicians to relax infection control precautions to free up more beds to tackle elective backlogs and admit A&E patients more quickly.

Also on today

In this week’s Health Check podcast, our panel discuss why they think the two-year waiters target could already be doomed, and why not finish the week with an update from NHS Blithering, courtesy as always of Julian Patterson.