HSJ’s must read stories for Thursday

2016: Year of opportunity with knobs on

This year is a year of opportunity for the NHS – “before the next general election looms into view and political nervousness puts the lid on any ambitious and controversial schemes” – says HSJ editor Alastair McLellan.

In fact, “2016-17 is one of those years with knobs on”.

It’s the first full financial year since the general election, and when a huge chunk of the spending review settlement comes into play.

But whether the health service can make the most of these opportunities depends on whether it can successful tackle a number of fundamental questions on service reform and technical quandaries. The stakes for the year could not be higher.

HSJ’s experts have put their heads together in an attempt to produce something close to a definitive list of the questions the NHS must answer.

The death of a deadline

NHS England is considering scrapping its timetable for commissioning support units to become independent, HSJ has learned.

Proposals for making CSUs “autonomous” are likely to emerge at the end of this month. The current policy is for them all to have floated out of the NHS by the end of 2016, but little work has been done so far and that date is no longer realistic.

Instead, under current proposals CSUs would not have a deadline.

And the grass gets longer: CSUs would need working capital to begin life as independent entities. NHS England says it could supply them with a loan, but only if it was affordable to NHS England, and that this could in turn mean autonomy takes even longer.

NHS England wouldn’t directly comment on any of this, but did send an intriguing statement reminding us that clinical commissioning groups are reprocuring CSU services, and that this “will help shape the configuration of CSUs in an era of continuing reductions in back office costs”.

It adds up to a recipe for yet more uncertainty in the sector.