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

As the government signals that it may allow pupils to return to schools a month from today, we look at the varying scenarios of how this might pan out.

Our exclusive analysis of NHS England data suggests there are likely to be more than 10,000 covid inpatients on 8 March, although alternative scenarios suggest a significantly better outcome.

On Sunday 7 February, there were 22,991 covid patients in English hospitals. This represents a fall of 11,345 (33 per cent) on the peak total recorded 20 days beforehand on 18 January.

This gives an average daily fall of 567. If that rate continued, there would be around 7,000 covid positive patients in English hospitals on 8 March.

The size of daily falls has increased significantly since 29 January, as the Midlands and the North have joined other parts of the country in reporting declining numbers. Should these larger falls be maintained, the NHS could have as few as 4,000 covid hospital patients by 8 March.

However, this seems optimistic. The average weekly rate of decline has levelled off at 18 per cent over the last few days. If that rate continued, the total number of covid patients would be a little over 10,000 on 8 March.

Winter of discontent

Lack of staff, infection prevention and the weakness of local leadership are the most frequent reasons why increasing numbers of people are raising whistleblowing concerns with the health and care watchdog.

The Care Quality Commission has revealed to HSJ that it received almost double the number of whistleblowing complaints in December when many parts of the NHS, particularly in the South East, were under major covid pressure.

Ted Baker, the CQC chief inspector of hospitals, has said the NHS lacks “resilience” in its ability to deal with winter and covid demands, and that some emergency departments don’t feel supported by the wider system.

It comes as the regulator has recently published concerns about staffing and leadership at major trusts in Liverpool and Birmingham.