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

Charity begins with data

Jeremy Hunt was a divisive health secretary. In particular, he became a comic book villain caricature for many on social media following the ill-advised war with junior doctors.

Yet Mr Hunt also won praise from many patients and those demanding reforms to improve patient safety. His decision to ignore civil service advice and meet families from Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay clearly affected Mr Hunt, who has now revealed his plans to launch and chair a new charity called Patient Safety Watch.

Initially it will have a very small remit to commission experts to gather data on avoidable harm using an agreed methodology that can be used to track safety over time. This is reminiscent of Mr Hunt’s desire to publish the numbers of avoidable deaths at every hospital, which prompted panic among civil servants and decisionmakers in the NHS hierarchy, who realised this would probably be impossible on sheer accuracy grounds as well as dangerous to the NHS’ reputation. The compromise result was the national mortality review process currently being used by hospitals.

While a health secretary should probably steer clear of such controversial measures, a charity doesn’t need to be so careful. Dr Foster proved the value of data and using it to spark conversations about hospital quality more than a decade ago. Patient Safety Watch – with a vocal and highly influential chair – may well seek to do the same.

History shows the NHS often waits until disaster strikes to make changes on safety. If it can be forced to act sooner thanks to Patient Safety Watch and Mr Hunt’s continuing passion, all the better.

No pressure, but…

A lot is riding on the success of primary care networks.

The NHS has bet the farm on their landmark reorganisation of primary and community care, sinking £4.5bn over the next five years into the scheme.

Meanwhile, many GPs hope they will stabilise the partnership model and reduce the load on the stretched primary care workforce. Providers, on the other hand, hope they will reduce demand at emergency departments, reduce unwarranted admissions, and provide a consistent out-of-hospital care offer to discharge patients into.

In July, NHS England laid out the five key priorities PCNs should have delivered on by 2023-24: stabilising the partnership model; expanding the non-medical primary care workforce to “solve the capacity gap”; becoming “a proven platform for further local NHS investment, including in premises”; dissolving the divide between community and primary care; delivering on seven national service specifications to demonstrably reducing the burden on the rest of the NHS.

If that wasn’t enough boxes to tick already, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has given his list of three “real-world” tests – putting a fine point on some of the five asks above – to determine whether PCNs have been a success. These were alleviating workforce challenges, improving patient access and bringing coherence to integrated urgent care, and linking primary and community nursing teams.