HSJ’s roundup of the day’s must read stories

The finger of blame

When this Executive Summary hits inboxes, thousands of junior doctors will be on their way to picket lines for their second 24-hour strike in protest against their proposed new contract.

There could have been a moment on Tuesday, however, when the angry medics were considering packing away their placards, as the British Medical Association and the government were in talks down to the wire to try to avert the strike.

But those attempts came to nothing, and the industrial action goes ahead.

As to who is responsible for the dispute dragging on this long, the majority of the public blames the government, according to HSJ’s poll with Ipsos MORI.

Sixty-four per cent of people surveyed thought the government was most at fault for this month’s strike taking place, while 13 per cent blamed junior doctors for the row going this far.

The proportion of people opposing the strike has gone up – from 16 per cent in our January poll to 22 per cent – but as in our previous survey, two-thirds of the public still support the action (as long as it doesn’t include emergency care).

As Jeremy Hunt astutely observed on The Marr Show at the weekend: “In any argument between doctors and politicians, the public are going to side with the doctors.”

Big money for high-tech

Mr Hunt’s announcement on Sunday that the government is investing £4.2bn “to bring NHS into the digital age” appeared to suggest billions of pounds was about to be pumped into the system.

Unfortunately, none of the money is new to the NHS, and the impressive sounding £4.2bn figure was generated by bundling together a series of budgets over a number of years, all of which were allocated in last November’s spending review or before.

It was ever thus.

However, the announcement did signal some changes to the way the NHS is using its spending review allocation – notably a good chunk of transformation funding, which has now been allocated for technology.

The health secretary revealed in his announcement that £1.8bn has been earmarked to make the NHS paperless at the point of care by 2020. It was previously understood that the flagship ambition would be largely funded out of a £1bn investment secured in the spending review.

Mr Hunt did not give details of where the money was coming from within the NHS’s existing allocation.

But on Tuesday NHS England digital technology director Beverley Bryant said it had so far been agreed that of the £1.8bn, £900m is capital funding and £400m is revenue funding from the sustainability and transformation fund. Negotiations between the Department of Health and NHS England about the remaining £500m are ongoing but should be resolved by March.

Once NHS England knows exactly what it has to allocate for technology, the next challenge will be to allocate it in a timely fashion – and hope it does not get raided by ministers for more politically pressing matters, such as winter pressures, like what happened last year.