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

The NHS is investing some of its limited capital in elective centres to try to get to grips with the massive waiting list of patients needing an appointment or treatment.

But should facilities built with this cash also be used for private patients? That is the plan – eventually – at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Foundation Trust where an elective centre is being developed at Ashford Hospital to tackle some of the 155,000 waiting list across Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care Board’s area.

The £10m cost for the work required – which includes two new theatres plus two ophthalmic theatres – is being met through public dividend capital. The trust’s plan is to use some of the new capacity to offer “ethical” private procedures at a “more affordable” price for self-payers.

When questioned by HSJ, the trust said there were “no immediate short-term plans” to do this – although it is mentioned in board papers – but talked about how it could attract and retain clinicians.

Private patient units are nothing new but at a time when so many people are on NHS waiting lists, developing a new one is always going to be controversial. ASPH may well end up rethinking.

Deaths inquiry widens

The inquiry into hundreds of mental health deaths in Essex has seen a significant update.

The probe has now been extended to look into deaths that have happened much more recently, up until the end of last year instead of the previous 2020.

The inquiry also mentions another trust – North East London FT – as within the scope.

The probe is looking at the deaths of mental health inpatients that have taken place since the start of the century.

Baroness Lampard told HSJ she wanted to look into more recent deaths in the probe last year, due to “ongoing concerns” over services.

It is hoped the new scope, now confirmed, will enable the new chair to crack on with the inquiry.

The probe was launched in 2021, albeit with a different chair and fewer powers than it has now.

Baroness Kate Lampard had only recently expressed her frustration at the delay in the government confirming its new scope since becoming statutory and said this was preventing her from doing anything substantial on it.

Also on today

Occupational therapy faces recruitment challenges amidst evolving healthcare needs, prompting a strategic shift towards community-focused roles, writes Karin Orman. And we report that the government’s New Hospital Programme has failed to appoint a new chief after conducting a recruitment process for a permanent senior responsible officer.