Today’s must read stories and talking points in health

Too hasty with pathology plans?

Trust chief executives have received two missives in as many months from NHS Improvement, instructing them to draw up plans for consolidating pathology and back office services.

As we all know, the provider sector is in dire financial straits. NHS Improvement has identified consolidation of these services as quick wins, which it hopes will make a significant contribution to efforts to get the sector deficit down to a manageable £250m by the year end.

However, the tight turnaround deadline for proposals has drawn criticism. The Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine accused NHS Improvement of imposing a “dangerously short timescale”, and claimed trusts were being “railroaded into consolidation without proper consideration for where pathology is now in terms of efficiencies and cost effectiveness”. The Royal College of Pathologists told HSJ it was a “really high risk approach”.

NHS Improvement has also been accused of bypassing the process established by Lord Carter’s review of NHS efficiency, with trusts which are already hitting Carter’s 1.6 per cent pathology productivity benchmark still having to submit consolidation plans.

To add an extra layer of complication, there is also confusion about how Carter’s benchmark is calculated.

Are the pathologists’ objections justified clinical concerns, or just inevitable pushback from professionals who are having their outdated working practices challenged?

We’ll have to see the plans which were submitted to NHS Improvement to get a better indication of the potential risks and savings opportunity.

The acid test for avoiding abject failure

Last month, NHS England committed nearly £4bn to mental health services by 2020-21, and set out how regulators, commissioners and providers will meet the well received recommendations of the Mental Health Taskforce.

But while the pledge was well received, former Mental Health Network boss Stephen Dalton has said the “acid test” for NHS England will be ensuring the promised funds actually reach frontline services, and enabling people to see it happening.

The interim NHS Confederation chief executive told HSJ that unless there was a transparent and independent process to track the money so the public can see where it is going, the plans would be an “abject failure”.

In response, an NHS England spokeswoman said its implementation plan was “crystal clear on what will be happening when, where the money is coming from, how the staff are going to be trained”, and set out a series of governance arrangements. “This is the most transparent approach to mental health improvement in the history of the NHS,” she added.

How to cut out unwanted variation

A new guide from HSJ and Syncera looks at how reducing variation in healthcare offers both financial savings and the opportunity for trusts to improve care.

It includes a summary of a recent HSJ roundtable, video highlights from the contributors, and case studies from organisations making inroads into the problem of unwarranted variation