HSJ’s summary of the day’s biggest health stories

‘We’re health journalists – we’re here to help’

No, really. On Tuesday, HSJ editor Alastair McLellan joined a panel of leading health journalists to help a House of Lords committee in their cogitations on the sustainability (or otherwise) of the NHS.

The evidence session was the committee’s final one – the list of previous contributors reads like a Who’s Who of health policy, including Simon Stevens, Jeremy Hunt, Dame Julie Moore and Mark Britnell.

The editor gave the committee two big reasons to be optimistic: there is more innovation in the service now than in the 2000s, when money was flowing; and the funding model for the NHS just needed good stewardship – it was not broken.

But while the NHS does not have a sustainability problem on its own, the health and social care system as a whole does.

The committee seems quite taken with the idea of an Office of Budget Responsibility for health, which could independently forecast long term health needs and the resources necessary to meet them.

Mr McLellan and Nick Timmins, formerly of the Financial Times, argued this was unnecessary. Just because something is created by legislation doesn’t mean anyone will take any notice of it – possibly a difficult message for our lawmakers to hear.

In any case, argued Mr Timmins, we don’t need a new organisation to say what the challenges are: we need to get something done about them.

Meanwhile, Theresa May did not give anything away that was not already known when she appeared before the Commons liaison committee (a super-group of other committee chairs) later in the day.

When asked whether the NHS can do everything promised in the Five Year Forward View with the money it has, the PM reiterated the controversial line that the government is giving the health service what it asked for and it is receiving a £10bn funding increase by 2021.

She was also skating on thin ice when she insisted the NHS is on course to meet its financial plans, saying 86 per cent of trusts hitting their targets. But with trusts that were financially on track midway through the year forecasting “significant deteriorations” by the end of 2016-17, Ms May might be counting her chickens before they hatch.

Trust faces legal challenge

HSJ revealed on Tuesday that Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust is being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive over the death of Adam Withers, a 20-year-old mental health patient in their care.

Mr Withers died after falling from a hospital roof while experiencing delusions. His mother saw him fall to his death.

Mr Withers is one of five “high profile” deaths at the trust – details of which will be emerging over the next three months.

The number of mentally ill patients who have died “unexpected” deaths or experienced severe harm at the trust has doubled in the last year, from 34 to 77.

The trust is standing firm. Director of quality Jo Young told HSJ: “The increase [in the number of unexpected deaths] is not in itself necessarily a concern. Since 2013 we have created a dedicated clinical risk and safety team to support the improved reporting and investigation of serious incidents.

“We will present a review exploring this in more detail to our January board for their consideration.”

Below the line, HSJ readers have commented that mental health patients appear not to be valued in the same way others are.

“There is too much of this being unconcerned about deaths of mental health patients,” wrote one. Mental health patients “are human beings with loved ones and friends but are treated like statistics or hospital episodes”.