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 just too busy to keep up, HSJ Catch Up will ensure you are still in the know.

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The future for HSJ

This month HSJ launches its latest digital service – HSJ Solutions is the largest validated repository of NHS best practice ever assembled.

In another notable development, the HSJ magazine will now be published fortnightly and will continue for the meantime to provide a limited digest of our digital coverage. Reflecting subscriber demand, in the future we intend to devote our efforts entirely to digital channels.

Speakers get candid at Health and Care Innovation Expo

The Health and Care Innovation Expo kicked off on Wednesday – a two day tech fest for the health service’s disruptors, change makers and blue sky thinkers.

Jeremy Hunt, Simon Stevens and US digital doctor Professor Robert Wachter were among the speakers on Wednesday, but most of the important policy announcements had been revealed before the Manchester Central had opened its doors.

Professor Wachter’s much anticipated report into IT in the NHS had some stark warnings for ministers: get rid of the “unrealistic” target for a paperless NHS by 2020; and the funding for such a project needs to almost double, from £1.8bn to £3bn.

Mr Hunt’s called the Wachter report a “sobering but important read” and said the huge variation in hospital IT systems was not good enough for the NHS. In response, 12 trusts will receive funding of up to £10m each to fast track digital innovation and act as “global exemplars”; universities will compete to host the first ever NHS digital academy; and NHS Choices will be revamped, among other measures.

But he did reveal he wasn’t entirely sure he was going to be health secretary after Theresa May became PM this summer.

The NHS England chief executive’s speech wasn’t previewed, but in the Q&A afterwards that Mr Stevens was more candid. He warned that upcoming five-day strikes by junior doctors would be “no good for patients” and no matter how long the notice period, “it will not be possible [for the NHS] to ensure there will be no harm to patients”.

He also said NHS England would set out its expectations for public engagement and consultation on sustainability and transformation plans next week. About time too, since STP leads have been discouraged from publishing draft proposals by NHS England officials.

Merger plans to create ‘super trust’

University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust has announced that it intends to create a “single organisation” with Heart of England Foundation Trust.

The new “super trust” would be bigger than any existing provider in terms of turnover – at £1.4bn – and could be the second biggest in the country if the proposed city-wide trust for Manchester is created.

The two boards will prepare a business case by the end of the year to create a single entity through either an acquisition or merger, which will then be considered for approval by regulators, both trusts’ governors and the Competition and Markets Authority.

Talks on reopening blocked merger

Three years after the attempted merger of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust and Poole Hospital FT was blocked on competition grounds, the two trusts are having another go.

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group wants to move emergency and planned activity on to different sites in the east of the county (to Bournemouth and Poole respectively).

The major fly in the ointment in all of this is the Competition and Markets Authority. Less than three years ago, Bournemouth and Poole both signed undertakings not to attempt a merger for 10 years, and they can only wriggle out from that commitment with the “prior written consent” of the CMA.

And if that wasn’t enough merger news for one day, it was also announced on Thursday that the acquisition of Sherwood Forest FT by Nottingham University Hospitals Trust has been delayed until 2017.

Acute trusts received cash bailout

A document published alongside the Department of Health accounts shows that more than half of acute trusts received some form of cash bailout in 2015-16, with total “revenue support” reaching almost £2bn.

These payments, up from about £1.2bn the previous year, were necessary to maintain the day to day running of hospitals, in many cases to prevent them running out of cash to pay staff or creditors.

Although the size of the number was not all that shocking, given the huge deficits that built up among providers last year, it’s striking that the DH actually expects much of this money to be paid back.

BMA calls off September strike

After announcing two phases of industrial action last week, the British Medical Association started this week by calling off September’s five-day strike.

The BMA was told by NHS England that services “cannot cope with the notice period” that was given. Junior doctors had planned to walk out from 12 September as part of their ongoing contract dispute with the government.

Over the weekend, the Department of Health and its former chief negotiator Sir David Dalton challenged the BMA’s claim that the government had refused to answer questions about its seven day services policy (one of the crucial points of contention in the contract row).

Meanwhile, Health Education England has unveiled a series of measures to improve junior doctors’ quality of life and deal with “non-contractual issues” raised by the dispute.

New leadership at Tameside and Glossop

In another significant development in Greater Manchester, Tameside Council’s chief executive has taken over the leadership of Tameside and Glossop CCG, with a view to this being a permanent joint role.

Steven Pleasant said his appointment was “symbolic” of the changes taking place, and builds on the development of a single commissioning board between adult social care and the CCG, including a joint management team.

Confidential data issues in the spotlight

NHS Digital has mistakenly published a business plan that set out timetables for a number of key programmes – including plans for how confidential patient data should be used and shared.

Patient data and confidentiality issues are particularly relevant this week because a public consultation on national data guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott’s recommendations for a new patient consent model, set out in her July report, ends on Wednesday.