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

Joining forces

The NHS has long used private providers to treat patients, but one acute trust has taken the relationship to the next level.

University Hospitals Plymouth Trust is teaming up with Care UK in a partnership which will see all the trust’s routine orthopaedic work moved up the road to the company’s facility nearby.

Under the agreement, the trust will send patients, along with its surgeons and anaesthetists, to Care UK’s treatment centre, and the company will provide the rest of the theatre and care staff required.

This will free up much needed space at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital this winter for emergency care, following a chaotic few months last year when elective waiting lists spiralled.

The trust hopes the partnership will result in the “virtual elimination” of year long waits for treatment and a small increase in overall referral to treatment performance – both by the end of March next year.

News of the partnership – broken by HSJ - was met by predictable howls of “NHS privatisation” from Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and local Labour MP Luke Pollard, the latter who was called a “pathetic wannabe” by fellow Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer (Conservative) in response.

The burden of back pain

Tackling the causes of premature death is expected to be at the forefront of the long term plan when it emerges later this year.

Reducing deaths from lung cancer, for example, is considered an investment. Not only would addressing such issues be a boon for the health of the nation, it should help release the pressure on the acute sector.

But the causes of morbidity, the sources of years lived with disability, have been absent from what we know about the contents of the long term plan so far.

We ignore the causes of years lived with disability at our peril, according to the lead researcher on a landmark public health study.

Nicholas Steel of the University of East Anglia told HSJ the NHS should give higher priority to services for back pain, skin problems and mental health problems.

The professor was swift to point out that it cannot be an either/or decision. Causes of mortality must be dealt with, but attention to the sources of morbidity could be seen as an investment too. “The burden on the NHS from lower back pain is enormous,” said Professor Steel, and tackling it could take a load off secondary care.