HSJ’s roundup of Wednesday’s key stories

Measuring the better care fund

The twin big beasts of the healthland - Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens - addressed the Local Government Association’s annual conference on Wednesday, both peppering their speeches with sign posts for future plans.

Of most significance to the assembled crowd was the health secretary’s announcement of his intention to introduce a new set of metrics to measure the progress of local areas’ better care fund and integration.

This drew a few groans from the audience (over Twitter of course), while plans to label medicines costing over £20 with their indicative price and the words “funded by the UK taxpayer” also solicited a mixed response.

Community pharmacy groups called it a “superficially attractive” measure but warned there was little evidence to show it would have the desired effect and could even lead to “unintended consequences”.

Mr Hunt’s set piece speech also urged the public to take more personal responsibility for looking after the elderly and for their own health - which he described as a new contract between the service and its users.

Meanwhile, the NHS England chief spoke of his desire to work with councils in bringing forward housing supply and designing in health.

Mr Stevens also spoke of his wish to make the high street a “healthy high street”, leading HSJ senior correspondent David Williams to observe that this came very close to calling on the government to increase local authorities’ planning powers.

Monitoring the irony

HSJ has uncovered details of the Monitor team that will drive the clampdown on agency staff spending.

The watchdog’s team have employed three people to carry out the work - on temporary contracts. The full cost of salaries, expenses and agency fees is expected to reach £209,000.

The regulator announced plans for its agency intensive support team at the end of May to help foundation trusts reduce their reliance on expensive temporary staff.

The business case for the project, obtained by HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act, says it will run for an initial six months before potential expansion.

If the project is successful, Monitor expects to recruit a permanent team of 10 with an annual cost of about £1.3m.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals Foundation Trust is one of the organisations being targeted in the pilot. Monitor has not named the other two.

The business case says external staff are preferred initially because Monitor does not currently have people with the required skill sets; it can trial the approach and then assess a permanent resource requirement; and it could commence work within a month.