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

Covid improvement programme

Senior healthcare leaders have called on ministers to scrap their financial and efficiency targets as they scramble services to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Foundation Trust, used Twitter to state that removing all cost improvement plan requirements for trusts would be “one of the best things the government could do for the NHS now”.

She told HSJ: “It takes a lot of time and co-ordination to get together and deliver on the [cost improvement plans]. Some of the people who would be doing this work absolutely need to be working on a response to coronavirus.

“It’s completely unrealistic to think about how we can make workforce reductions and workforce savings [given the expected coronavirus demand]. If we stood [the CIP requirements] down now we can make a better use of everyone’s time.

“We have to be 100 per cent focussed on clinical need.”

NHS Providers, which represents trust leaders, agreed that NHS England and NHS Improvement need to revisit trust and system financial targets for 2020-21. 

At the time of writing, there’s no word on whether the centre agrees. 

Procurement not-so premier league

Lord Carter’s review of hospital productivity is nearly four years old, but, according to the latest NHS England/Improvement procurement league table, lots of trusts still aren’t meeting his recommendations.

Carter predicted the NHS could save hundreds of millions of pounds by modernising procurement—embracing catalogues and other digital procurement tools. Some of these recommendations are now relatively standard, but others—like matching invoices to electronic purchase orders—are still lagging.

The league table itself is always controversial. It ranks providers according to several procurement metrics every quarter. But several trusts—and not just those at the bottom – have raised concerns about the data quality and the design of the table itself. Several told Daily Insight they don’t believe it paints an accurate picture of their procurement performance. If you consider how much some trusts positions have varied over the last year, you can see why. One trust fell from 19 to 130 in six months, before jumping back up to 47 on the latest table.

NHSE/I was vague when probed about such concerns. A spokesman accepted the health service “can always do more,” but claimed the table helped trust save some £268m last year. He didn’t respond to Daily Insight’s request for clarification on the figure.