The must read stories and talking points in health policy

Nothing to fear here

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch doesn’t start its operations until 1 April, but already the chief investigator has called for more powers to demand that NHS organisations respond to its warnings and statutory independence.

Keith Conradi, who was head of the Air Accident Investigations Branch for 14 years, told HSJ he was “lobbying” the health secretary for additional powers, including evidence gathering and requiring trusts, regulators and the Department of Health to respond to its safety recommendations.

The branch was set up by Jeremy Hunt following the Morecambe Bay scandal and will carry out 30 investigations a year.

On the branch’s independence, Mr Conradi said HSIB, which is hosted by NHS Improvement, needed to be functionally independent. He added: “From a perception point of view I think it is extremely important that we are another step remote from any organisation we would potentially investigate.”

Mr Conradi also wants the NHS to know it has “nothing to be fearful of” when HSIB is up and running from April.

He hoped HSIB would bring a new “professionalism” to incident investigation and “trusts could gain hugely” from lessons learnt to improve safety and culture.

Big block contract

In recent years NHS organisations have gradually been coming off activity-based tariff and on to block contracts, with HSJ reporting on one big example in Merseyside.

Commissioners in Liverpool and South Sefton have have agreed block contracts with six NHS trusts over the next two years, which will be worth a combined total of £1.5bn.

The deal is a significant shift away from the payment by result tariff. There has been an increase in the use of block contracts for NHS elective care in recent years, but local health leaders are now increasingly looking to include non-elective care as well.

Concerns around this shift have been raised by the independent sector, as well as some legal experts who believe dropping the tariff system breaches the terms of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

However, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said last autumn that national leaders are “entirely open” to local organisations agreeing non-tariff based contracts.

Trusts bid for tech millions

Fourteen mental health trusts are vying to secure up to £5m of central funding as part of the digital exemplars programme.

Six of the trusts will be selected in the coming weeks to become “national exemplars” and will receive other central support to deliver projects that NHS England hopes will provide models for other trusts to follow.

The news follows Jeremy Hunt announcing in September, in response to the Wachter review of NHS IT, that 12 acute trusts would receive up to £10m to become “global exemplars”, before a further 20 trusts become “national” champions of digital technology and receive up to £5m.