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.

Hunt on regulation and patient safety

It has been a tumultuous year for Jeremy Hunt, with the SoS battling junior doctors through a series of strikes and rumours about his employment in the first few days of Theresa May’s government. But he has ended 2016 as the longest serving health secretary, and has been discussing one of his preferred subject areas: patient safety.

In an exclusive HSJ interview, the health secrerary warned trusts risk getting a poor Care Quality Commission rating if families are not involved in investigations of avoidable deaths.

He said facing up to the problem of avoidable deaths in healthcare was one of the most important reforms since he took on the role in 2012, and was “a problem in global healthcare”.

Mr Hunt also said he had lobbied the prime minister to get legislation on new reforms to the health service to be included in next year’s Queen’s speech, including the creation of new “safe space” protection for staff during investigations into mistakes in patient care.

On the subject of regulation, he said he would not consider merging the CQC with any other body before 2020, and the future of NHS England and NHS Improvement would be determined after the STP process had run its course.

Christmas instructions for hospitals

Last week, we revealed trusts had been asked to stop most elective work to reduce bed occupancy over the Christmas period.

A leaked NHS Improvement letter said trusts should aim to have 85 per cent of beds occupied for the next month – that’s 10 percentage points lower than where they are now. The idea is that this will allow them to focus on emergency work, which is expected to increase.

The NHS does something like this every year, but this letter goes further by connecting a halt on elective work to the desired, much lower, bed occupancy rate.

Bonus for trusts that meet control totals

As well as trying to prevent trusts from falling behind their financial plan, regulators are desperate to persuade a few more organisations to be even better behaved.

NHS Improvement has confirmed that “bonus payments” will be offered to those trusts that meet their control totals – from the unused part of the £1.8bn sustainability and transformation fund – with those bettering their target getting an even larger bonus.

The pot is likely to be worth well over £300m, which is a significant amount to divert from struggling organisations to those that are doing OK.

And there lies the main concern – that the policy risks exacerbating the financial problems for those which already have little hope.

The move didn’t go down brilliantly with the HSJ commenters, with one reader saying: “I cannot understand why this is supposed to motivate me in leading my organisation in any way whatsoever.”

NHS investment funds raided again

More than £3bn looks set to be raided from already squeezed NHS investment funds by 2020, to prop up the Department of Health’s day to day revenue budgets, according to figures seen by HSJ.

A presentation slide used by national NHS leaders says another £1bn will be transferred from capital budgets in 2017-18, on top of £1.2bn already confirmed for 2016-17.

Further raids of £500m and £250m will be made in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively, the slide suggests.

The DH has been heavily criticised for repeatedly using capital funds to balance growing revenue deficits in the NHS trust sector in recent years, and the planned transfers would mean capital funds being raided for six years in a row.

HSJ revealed on Tuesday that Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust is being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive over the death of Adam Withers, a 20-year-old mental health patient in their care.

Mr Withers died after falling from a hospital roof while experiencing delusions. His is one of five “high profile” deaths at the trust – details of which will be emerging over the next three months.

The number of mentally ill patients who have died “unexpected” deaths or experienced severe harm at the trust has doubled in the last year, from 34 to 77.

The trust is standing firm. Director of quality Jo Young told HSJ: “The increase [in the number of unexpected deaths] is not in itself necessarily a concern. Since 2013 we have created a dedicated clinical risk and safety team to support the improved reporting and investigation of serious incidents.”

New minister at the DH

Lord O’Shaughnessy was announced as the new minister at the DH by Number 10 on Wednesday – taking on the role of parliamentary undersecretary of state, as well as becoming a government whip.

He is a former Downing Street aide, and was director of policy for David Cameron from May 2010 to October 2011.

Lord Prior makes way for the new face and moves to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to be parliamentary undersecretary of state.