HSJ’s daily digest of must read stories

Watchdog watch

Another day, another subtle undoing of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. HSJ exclusively revealed on Monday night that the Department of Health has changed the governance of Healthwatch England, so for the first time the patient and consumer champion will report to the Care Quality Commission rather than directly to the DH.

In future, the chair of Healthwatch will be accountable to the CQC chair, and the new “national director” (the DH is not recruiting a new chief executive to replace Katherine Rake) will answer to the CQC’s chief executive. An NHS insider told HSJ that Healthwatch was being “embedded” within the regulator.

The changes have unsurprisingly raised questions about the independence of the Healthwatch England. As one commentator asked, would the new chair really stand in front of television cameras and say “the organisation that I’m accountable to, the CQC, is not up to the job”? Former health minister Norman Lamb told us the patient voice in the system had been “diminished”.

Healthwatch England’s independence in relation to the CQC (it is officially a “statutory committee” of the regulator) has been a subject of debate since its creation. In a House of Lords debate in 2012, Lord Highbury remarked: “The fear for many is that that the HWE committee will be rapidly absorbed into, and moulded and overwhelmed by, the dominant culture and infrastructure of the CQC.”

Full marks for prescience.

Crisis averted (for a bit)

After “landing a punch” (to quote Sir David Dalton) on the health secretary with its last strike, the British Medical Association has taken off its gloves, at least temporarily.

On Tuesday morning, the doctors’ union suspended next week’s planned industrial action by junior doctors, while negotiations over a new contract continue with NHS Employers.

HSJ editor Alastair McLellan wondered if this progress was down to the “calming influence” of Sir David, who was brought in to the talks by Jeremy Hunt.

However, there was a warning that “significant, concrete progress will need to be made” if the strike planned for 10 February, which includes emergency care, is to be avoided.

New chief at Guy’s and Tommy’s

Congratulations to Amanda Pritchard, who has been appointed to the top job at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust.

The new chief executive has been chief operating officer since 2012 and acting chief executive since October last year. She replaces Sir Ron Kerr, who led the organisation for eight years.

In common with other large teaching hospitals, Guy’s and St Thomas’ faces problems with finance and waiting times performance for specialist services, which Ms Pritchard acknowledged.

Her appointment is also a step in the right direction for diversity in NHS leadership, although there is still a lot of work to do. HSJ senior correspondent Ben Clover observed that three of the 10 Shelford Group chief executive posts are now filled by women.