HSJ’s roundup of Tuesday’s key stories

Three is a magic number

A trio of hospital trusts in in the West Midlands are creating an alliance with a combined turnover of more than £1bn and a catchment population of over 1 million patients, HSJ has learned.

The Black Country Alliance will be created as a joint venture aiming to make efficiency savings and improve sustainability in the region north of Birmingham.

The trusts involved are:

  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust;
  • Dudley Group Foundation Trust; and
  • Walsall Healthcare Trust.

Those involved are very keen to stress this is definitely not a merger, but there will be a board to oversee the venture’s work.

Only work agreed by all three members will be taken forward, and the trusts will continue to work with existing partners on integration and new care models.

In its first year the alliance will look at changes to back office functions including:

  • combining HR, payroll and other administrative services;
  • a strategic review of procurement processes;
  • a review of estates including the management of private finance initiatives; and
  • improving IT.

Walsall chief executive Richard Kirby told HSJ the alliance was a way to ensure his trust’s long term viability, while Dudley Group chief executive Paula Clark said changing care models in the NHS meant the trust needed to look at a different way of providing services.

No doubt the inhabitants of Richmond House and Skipton House will be taking a close interest.

Kirkup’s concerns

Writing on hsj.co.uk, Bill Kirkup has said that while he has been encouraged by the overall response to his investigation into care failings at Morecambe Bay, a number of areas are causing him concern.  

He cites remarks from other trusts that what happened at Morecambe Bay could not happen to them.

He says: “The alignment of almost every single failure from maternity unit upwards that was seen at Morecambe Bay may be inherently unlikely, but it seems highly likely that there are other units that show some of these features, and a few will show more. 

“The short answer is that it could happen elsewhere, and if we don’t take the trouble to investigate and eradicate the underlying causes then sooner or later it will.”

Clearly impassioned by some of the issues raised in Mr Kirkup’s comment piece, one commenter said: “After five years of being blamed for everything under the sun and years of real terms pay cuts we now face yet another five years of real terms pay cuts, threats to unsocial hours pay, pensions, working hours.

“By every gesture and action the government makes clear in what contempt it holds the public services and the workforce - aided and abetted by a cluster of managers on eye watering remuneration packages and no professional accountability whatsoever.”

Patient safety provokes some emotional reactions indeed.

Patients move towards larger GP practices

Nearly 600 GP practices have closed in the last five years, data seen by HSJ has revealed.

However, patient list sizes have steadily risen over the same period, which suggests a shift towards larger scale providers.