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

Radio silence

NHS system leaders have long urged NHS organisations to be transparent, apply duty of candour, and learn from mistakes openly. So, perhaps it’s time they put some of this good practice to use themselves?

NHS Improvement and NHS England’s joint winter review was due in May, or June. Last year, a similar document, was published on 14 July. The review is designed to highlight what went wrong – and right – over winter.

Bearing in mind the torrid winter just gone, despite repeated reassurances at national level that the NHS was the most prepared it had ever been (a claim yet to resurface this year), early publication to allow full dissemination of the message would seem like a good idea.

But, trusts chiefs report to HSJ this week that it’s still radio silence from the centre on the review. And there are concerns that leaders are not fully focussed on winter because of the myriad of other projects ongoing around the long term plan among other things.

The review has been discussed on numerous occasions by the NHSI board. But – like most items of any value at the NHSI board meeting – it was discussed in the lengthy private session.

Would NHSI tolerate such an opaque approach from a humble DGH?

Of course, winter is going to be very, very tough. No one is expecting the centre to be able to magic away the chronic problems underpinned by increasing demand, workforce shortages and a creaking infrastructure suffering from years of underinvestment.

System leaders can only play the hand they’ve been dealt, which is, at best, modest, and the task they face is unenviable.

It is also likely that some of the contents of the winter review will draw media criticism. But that’s the price of transparency, and, who knows, maybe some good could come out of it?

Hancock steps in

Early on, Matt Hancock highlighted technology as a top priority of his tenure as health and social care secretary.

Now he has personally intervened in his department’s approach to its own tech and suggested that, maybe, another more Googlely approach could be better.

HSJ reported on Friday that Mr Hancock has asked Liam Maxwell, the Government’s national tech adviser, to take another look at DHSC’s plan for an IT overhaul.

This included explicit instructions to consider the feasibility of moving from Microsoft (what DHSC currently uses and was leaning towards continuing to use) to Google.

Sources that spoke to HSJ stressed that there was no preference for one solution over another, and compared to the overall IT or “digital transformation” strategy for the NHS, which thus far remains unmoved by Mr Hancock’s arrival, the review is a relatively small matter.

However, it does suggest a willingness to intervene directly, at least when it comes to technology.

As pressure continues to mount on the NHS to “digitally transform”, Mr Hancock could well choose to intervene again.