HSJ’s roundup of Wednesday’s key stories

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Fear of the unknown for public health

Public health officials have been left queasily wondering where the axe will fall after George Osborne indicated last week that £200m would be cut from public health budgets.

HSJ has been speaking to several leading figures in the sector, who have said that despite the cut supposedly avoiding “frontline services”, there is a danger the number of health visitors could be slashed, as responsibility for this function passes to councils imminently..

This would be galling for health visitors, but also for those NHS managers whipped in recent years into pushing up numbers to meet a prime ministerial pledge to get numbers up. It seems the politicians have not yet put in place a similar heartfelt guarantee to maintain these staff now they are there.

The profession-driven target could have been a huge waste of time, and there are concerns that home visits to new mothers will be cut to the bare minimum.

The pendulum swings

A game of top trumps has been raging across the NHS sphere between “quality” and “finance”. Last year the talk was all about ignoring the finances and keeping the quality; now the message is to focus on quality, while finance is just as important. That £822m total provider deficit has hardened the hearts of the Treasury, perhaps.

NHS England’s medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has entered the debate, telling HSJ the quality agenda should define trusts’ financial strategy, and not the other way around.

He has also roundly rejected the criticism from some corners that the decision to move from weekly to monthly accident and emergency performance reports is an attempt to cover up failure. He told HSJ transparency is “one of the strongest drivers for quality in our health service” and said the current approach to reporting “sometimes makes it easy for people to draw isolated conclusions out of context”.

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