Your essential update on the week in health

HSJ Catch Up

This new weekly email gives HSJ subscribers a vital update on the biggest stories from the last week in health. If you have been out of the office or otherwise too busy too busy to keep up, HSJ Catch Up will ensure you are still in the know.

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Mackey backtracks on provider surplus promise

Just two months into 2016-17, chief regulator Jim Mackey admitted in an interview with HSJ this week that the provider sector will not be brought into the black this year.

This is despite a public commitment made six months ago to bring providers back into balance, made in response to government demands.

This will come as a relief to leaders at local trusts, who always thought it a pretty far-fetched ambition.

Mr Mackey revealed in the same interview that NHS finances overall will again be “tight” this year, and said that he would only be in the job for two years (taking him to late 2017), before returning to Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust.

That will put an interesting slant on his relationship with other national leaders, no doubt, as well as presumably an enhanced solidarity with local leaders.

Manchester City Council shows its power over healthcare

Manchester continues to bound ahead with the transformation agenda, with proposals outlined on Tuesday for a single city-wide hospital provider.

This would effectively mean a mega-merger of the city’s two big teaching trusts - Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust and University Hospital of South Manchester FT - with North Manchester General Hospital (currently run by Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust) also thrown into the mix.

Normally, proposals as radical as these would prompt some frosty statements from the various parties, but there was decidedly little protest, and even some enthusiasm, from the trusts involved.

This may have something to do with two of the trusts having interim chief executives, after their previous leaders came into conflict with the commissioner/town hall vision and were soon off to pastures new.

The extent of the proposals again illustrates the increasing influence and power of Manchester City Council – which is brimming with confidence following the devolution deal for Greater Manchester.

Interestingly, the review by Sir Jonathan Michael, the respected former trust chief executive, rejected the idea of a “hospital chain” for the city of Manchester.

Royal Free empire expands

Would it be too cynical to suggest that Wednesday’s announcement of a senior director from the Royal Free as the new chief executive of West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust might be related to the revelation that the same trust has begun to explore buddying with the Royal Free?

And that West Herts, put in special measures in September 2015, might go the same way as Barnet and Chase Farm, now fully acquired by the Hampstead-based trust?

A Royal Free director was given the interim chief executive role at Barnet and Chase Farm in November 2013, shortly before it was absorbed by its neighbour to the south.

The Royal Free, led by David Sloman, is one of England’s hospital chain vanguards and might say that it is early days for the form. But West Herts needs fairly significant action soon, having had a string of governance and care problems in recent years.

The news comes as North Middlesex University Hospital – to the east of the Royal Free, announced it would be applying to become a founder member of the Royal Free chain.

There has been disagreement as to whether chains would be a bag failing trusts were put into or a club that providers joined voluntarily.

In greater Manchester it looks as if they could be both, with Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust unofficially taken over by Salford Royal chief executive David Dalton while Bolton and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh join voluntarily.

Revealed: The trusts that ‘urgent action’ couldn’t help

Finance expert Lawrence Dunhill has carried out an important analysis identifying 10 trusts whose financial position got substantially worse in the final months of 2015-16.

This is particularly important, as it was the very same point when NHS Improvement was strongly urging last-ditch efforts to improve the bottom lines of individual providers, and the NHS as a whole.

At the same time, agency staff price controls were ramping up. Sadly, these organisations’ financial position just kept on getting worse.

Air crash investigator to take top job at patient safety body

It emerged on Friday that the Air Accident Investigation Branch chief investigator is set to lead the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch.

Former pilot Keith Conradi is due to be appointed chief investigator at the new patient safety body, subject to approval by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee next week.

Mr Conradi, who has been head of the AAIB for six years, will be responsible for establishing HSIB, which was set up in the wake of the Morecambe Bay scandal, and for carrying out around 30 investigations of NHS safety incidents each year.

The new body is modelled on industry investigation units such as the AAIB, which is focused on determining how accidents happened without apportioning blame or liability.

Kent commissioners in court

It’s always sad to see the pseudo-market of the NHS leak real money outside of the system in lawyer’s fees.

That is what has happened in north Kent as a spurned incumbent provider took commissioners to court to overturn their decision.

We reported this week that Kent Community Health Foundation Trust lost part of its legal challenge to CCGs. The provider had won a suspension of a new contract, which had been awarded to Virgin Care, while its complaints about the process were considered.

Commissioners overturned this at the High Court on last Friday and it is not clear whether Kent Community will continue to push their case for overturning the contract (essentially, that the CCGs didn’t give proper weighting to quality issues in giving the work to Virgin).