HSJ’s daily digest of essential health policy stories and analysis

Money meltdown

Having waited until well into October for Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority to publishthe grim first quarter financial results for the NHS provider sector, the NHS had to wait little more than a month for the national bodies to release their second quarter results on Friday.

As anticipated, they are even more grim: providers reported a £1.6bn deficit for the first half of 2015-16, and (for the first time in an official document) we were informed that the provider sector is forecasting a deficit of £2.2bn by the end of the financial year.

The national bodies expressed hope that the coming agency caps, curbs on management consultancy spend, and delays to providers’ capital expenditure could bring that figure down before April.

The escalating financial crisis not only poses a serious risk to the Department of Health’s bottom line – it threatens to exhaust finance experts’ supply of words to describe how bad things are. Health Foundation chief economist Anita Charlesworth today labelled NHS finances as “truly dire”, Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury described this as the “toughest financial challenge ever faced by the NHS”, and King’s Fund policy director Richard Murray said the figures showed the health service “in the grip of an unprecedented financial meltdown”.

All three highlighted the relevance of today’s figures to next Wednesday’s spending review, with Ms Charlesworth saying: “Next week’s spending review needs to address the unprecedented scale of challenge facing the NHS. Additional investment needs to come sooner rather than later and there needs to be dedicated funding to support the changes necessary for a sustainable NHS.”

Are you ready for the spending review?

Next Wednesday’s comprehensive spending review will be a pivotal moment for the NHS, setting funding for the coming three years in the midst of a period of unprecedented austerity.

HSJ editor Alastair McLellan tweeted on Friday that 25 November 2015 will be one of the most important days for the NHS in the last 15 years.

Negotiations are expected to go to the wire – NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told his board on Friday morning that they were still ongoing.

However, HSJ’s extensive recent coverage acts as a primer on key issues and changes to expect, and much pre-briefing and speculation can be expected between now and Wednesday.

HSJ bureau chief Cripin Dowler looks at what the spending could mean for the NHS ringfence, pressure on the frontline, technology, the better care fund and devolution.