Your essential update on the week in health

HSJ Catch Up

This 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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Former trust boss faces jail

A former hospital trust chief executive faces jail after she pleaded guilty to fraudulently paying her husband more than £11,000.

Paula Vasco-Knight, the former head of Torbay and South Devon Foundation Trust, and her husband Stephen, had pleaded not guilty to fraud at Exeter Crown Court but changed their pleas on Thursday.

Ms Vasco-Knight authorised the payment of £11,072 to her husband’s graphic design company to produce a 200 page leadership improvement document called Transform, which was never submitted. She was found not guilty of another count of fraud.

Court recorder Don Tait told the former NHS England equalities lead she should expect jail time for her part in the fraud. The couple will be sentenced on 10 March.

Habib Naqvi, a senior equalities manager at NHS England, was acquitted of two charges of encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence.

CCGs criticised for rationing hip and knee replacement surgeries

Three clinical commissioning groups’ attempts to ration knee and hip replacement surgery have caused outrage among the Royal College of Surgeons.

This week Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG revealed plans to revise its own and South Worcestershire and Wyre Forest CCGs’ commissioning policies for MSK services in the hope of saving over £2m.

They intend to lower the threshold for patients eligible for knee and hip replacements.

The part that has irked the royal college is the method the CCG is using to decide who is eligible and who is not.

The CCGs have said that only patients with an “Oxford hip or knee score” of less than 25 will be eligible for treatment in future.

RCS have argued that there is “no clinical justification” for using the Oxford scoring system to determine whether an individual patient should receive a treatment as the system was intended to measure outcomes.

According to the CCGs’ new policy, only patients with a BMI of less than 35 will be eligible for surgery unless they can demonstrate a 10 per cent loss in weight; they are in danger of losing their independence; or the level of joint destruction would increase if surgery was delayed. The CCGs have said that those not eligible but still wanting surgery will be able to appeal.

Teaching trust chief to leave

The chief executive of Imperial College Healthcare Trust, Tracey Batten, is to leave the London teaching trust later this year.

Ms Batten started work at the Shelford Group organisation in February 2014, after a successful career as a clinician and manager in Australia.

She told staff she will be returning to Australia but will remain at the trust for at least six more months. The trust has recently been in spotlight as the star of BBC series Hospital.

Trusts warned over capital funding shortage

Yet another warning over the shortage of capital funding has gone out to trusts this week, with every finance director told to “personally check” their spending plans for the remainder of 2016-17.

Providers have been told their capital spending plans for the current year are still unaffordable and asked to defer non-urgent spending to 2017-18.

The last warning of this kind came about three months ago, and has yielded a reduction in planned spend of around £300m.

So there’s just another £1bn to go until the plans match the available resources, which total just £2.7bn.

A significant number of trusts have back-ended their spending towards the latter months of the year, and NHS Improvement suspects the forecast spend has been overestimated.

Extent of rota gaps revealed

A nationwide shortage of nurses is nothing new. But last week HSJ published the results of an investigation conducted over almost two years to show not only is the shortage widespread across hospitals but the situation has got worse.

HSJ collected staffing data for hospital sites measuring the hospital’s performance against their own nurse staffing plans and found that as of October 2016, 96 per cent, or 214 hospitals, missed their target.

The performance got worse in 2016 at around the time new agency cap controls came into force in April.

Additionally, the data suggests hospitals may be using healthcare assistants to fill gaps in the nursing workforce as the majority employed more HCAs than planned.

The realities of working on short-staffed wards has been laid bare by nurses who told us about their experiences, described how corners were being cut and warned patient care was put at risk.

Low understanding of STPs among public

While sustainability and transformation plans have been one of the biggest talking points among HSJ readers for some time (the most searched for term on for a number of months has been “STP”), research shared with us last week has found very low awareness of the plans among the general public.

An Ipsos Mori poll found only one in seven people surveyed in December were aware of their local STP, which was in contrast with 74 per cent who were “worried” or “very worried” about the future of the NHS. The survey involved 943 people in England.

Despite STPs being described as “secret Tory plans” by some campaign groups, the survey results seemed to indicate a large degree of public apathy towards participating in the design of services.