The Primer provides a rapid guide to the most interesting comment and analysis on the English health and care sector that has not (usually) appeared in HSJ.

Last supper

Lord (Simon) Stevens, now in his final week of more than seven years as NHS England chief executive, gave a “Lunch with the FT” interview to the newspaper’s global health editor Sarah Neville. Along with a bit of looking back, it includes an apparent rejoinder to Sajid Javid’s forecast that the elective waiting list might reach 13 million (Simon says: “We’re not heading for a 13 million waiting list if we choose to do something about it, which I’m absolutely convinced both the government and the NHS will do.”). He also chides anyone still claiming that lockdown measures couldn’t come back (“I think the word irreversible about anything is probably best not used.”)

Summer forecast

HSJ’s editor’s latest update on how covid is still hitting hospitals. Based on the trend up to Friday, he said there were likely to be around 5,500 covid patients in English hospitals by the end of the month, and we could still be on course to reach at least 8,000 (circa 10 per cent of adult general and acute beds) in August. 

He adds: “The big unknown is what happens after the peak. The NHS can cope circa 8-10K covid patients for a few weeks. But if (after kids go back to school) it continues into late Sep/Oct, the build-up of pressure will feel as intense as the (much higher, but shorter) April & Jan peaks.” Alastair also joined BBC Radio 4’s PM show on Saturday to explain more.

Rocky shores

Chris Whitty used his chief medical officer’s report 2021 to highlight poor health in coastal areas. He argued: “The health challenges of coastal towns, cities and other communities are serious, and their drivers are more similar than their nearest inland neighbour.” As well as population trends and social/economic issues, it explores the difficulties attracting and keeping healthcare staff in many of these areas, and of running a hospital whose catchment area is cut short by the sea. That will resonate with NHS leaders who have dealt with challenges in places like East Yorkshire, Cornwall or coastal Lancashire and Cumbria. Many believe lack of staff and resources lie behind the NHS care which occur more often in these areas — although others might add to that list the challenges of rural non-coastal areas, such as Shropshire, or hospitals on the outskirts of London.  


Demis Hassabis tells The Times about what is probably most material discovery by his DeepMind outfit yet — rapidly predicting the structure of hundreds of thousands of proteins. This is “an advance that promises to open a new era of discovery and drug development”, say the newspaper’s science correspondents. 

Cowper’s Cut

Our previous Monday morning column has now moved to its own home: Fans can head to Andy’s Health Policy Insight website to subscribe for regular installments of the Cowper’s Cut analysis, wit and the odd scoop.