HSJ’s daily digest of the most important stories in health

Dalton aims to dodge knockout blow

On Thursday, Sir David Dalton stepped into the ring to try to call time on the increasingly bad tempered bout between the British Medical Association and the government.

The respected Salford Royal chief exec is taking the lead in the employers corner, on talks through Acas, to agree a new junior doctors’ contract and avert more strikes – particularly the proposed withdrawal of all labour on 10 February, which Sir David said would be “disastrous” for the NHS.

Before going through the ropes, Sir David told HSJ in an exclusive interview that this week’s 24 hour strike had shown the BMA could “land a punch” on the health secretary, but he called on the doctors’ union to start “lowering the temperature” (not a boxing technique HSJ is familiar with) and said private discussion with NHS Employers was the way forward.

He also had words of warning for the government, saying it had “muddled” its message on seven day services and junior doctors.

HSJ’s Top Chief Executive 2015, who was asked by Jeremy Hunt to get involved in negotiations, also said he wanted to “change the current dynamics” between the BMA and NHS Employers. Otherwise both sides could get stuck in “a long, dirty war of attrition and nobody will come out on top”.

Sir David’s opening flurry has been broadly welcomed by HSJ readers commenting below the line and on Twitter – hopefully such goodwill can find its way into the negotiating arena.

Waiting games

Referral to treatment time performance has declined, NHS England figures released today show.

The headline figure against the main 92 per cent RTT target was achieved – just – at 92.4 per cent, but the performance in November was the lowest for four years.

HSJ columnist and waiting times experts Rob Findlay said the service would have breached the national target if figures from trusts failing to submit figures were included.

Data released last month for performance in October also showed a breach.

NHS England admitted that when the data from the missing trusts is added in, the total waiting list could reach 3.5m – 16 per cent higher than at the same point in 2014.

One source told HSJ the decision to order trusts to cut elective beds by 20 per cent to make way for A&E pressure in December had been a “catastrophe” and would see the service struggle to catch up with cancelled work.

He added that there had been an increase in trusts “gaming” the system in order to make their figures look better and that the overall waiting list was “far, far too big”.

The number of people waiting more than a year for treatment has also increased sharply, following progress in recent years. The 834 people waiting more than a year in November was more than double the amount in November 2014 and nearly quadruple November 2013.