HSJ’s roundup of Thursday’s must read stories in health policy

Hunt “profoundly shocked” over Southern Health leak

Jeremy Hunt waded into the furore over Southern Health on Thursday morning, calling the apparent failure of leaders at the foundation trust to investigate hundreds of unexpected deaths “totally and utterly unacceptable”.

The health secretary was responding to an urgent question in the Commons from his shadow, Heidi Alexander, after a draft report criticising the leadership of the mental health trust leaked the previous evening.

“The whole House will be profoundly shocked” by the allegations in report, was Mr Hunt’s opening remark.

NHS England commissioned audit firm Mazars to complete a report into deaths among patients of Southern Health between April 2011 and March 2015. This followed the death of teenager Connor Sparrowhawk at Southern’s short term assessment and treatment unit in Oxfordshire in July 2013. Connor, who had autism and epilepsy, drowned in a bath following a seizure.

The report said only 1 per cent of the unexpected deaths for patients with disabilities had been investigated. It has been strongly contested by the trust and an academic.

The trust said: “There are serious concerns about the draft report’s interpretation of the evidence. We fully accept that our reporting processes following a patient death have not always been good enough. We have taken considerable measures to strengthen our investigation and learning from deaths including increased monitoring and scrutiny.”

Mr Hunt confirmed NHS England’s final report would be released before Christmas. He also pledged to accept the “vast majority if not all of its recommendations” and outlined measures to help improve the culture in the NHS around learning disability.

The health secretary was less keen on a public inquiry into the treatment of patients with learning disabilities and mental health problems, as suggested by ex-minister Norman Lamb, as they can take years and he wanted “to take action now”. But he did not rule it out.

Mackey turns the house over

The NHS Improvement chief executive raised a few eyebrows on Thursday when he revealed he has to get the deeply in-deficit provider sector back to breakeven in 2016-17.

Even with the extra money going into the tariff next year, this looks like a herculean task for Jim Mackey.

The provider sector reported a deficit of about £100m in 2013-14, which grew to more than £800m in 2014-15, and the forecast for 2015-16 is skywards of £2bn.

Matter-of-fact Jim is not a foolish man though, so he must be confident of getting a significant amount of “targeted growth” funding to support some providers’ bottom lines next year.

Speaking at the Healthcare Financial Management Association’s conference, he said negotiations on this are still ongoing, while a confirmed 1 per cent cash terms increase in the tariff rate will also help achieve the goal.

Mr Mackey warned providers they cannot forget about the remaining challenge in 2015-16 though, telling finance chiefs they would need to “tip the kitchen sink” and “turn the sofa over” to hit their control targets to avoid the “fatal” consequences of breaching the Department of Health spending limit.

The trouble is, many providers feel they’ve already turned over all the furniture that Mr Mackey could possibly think of, and fear the promised transition from hard-nosed regulation to soft-handed support may be short lived.