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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Hospitals braced for strikes

The NHS will need to prepare for 20 working days of strikes by junior doctors between now and Christmas, after the British Medical Association announced four weeks of action by trainees in England.

On Wednesday, the BMA council announced that junior doctors will walk out for five days from 8am to 5pm from Monday 12 September to Friday 16 September. The council met that afternoon to discuss a proposal by the junior doctors’ committee to escalate industrial action in a last ditch bid to prevent the government from imposing a new contract.

The BMA revealed the following day that junior doctors would strike for a further five weekdays in October, November and December. Doctors working in emergency services will be included in each strike.

The dates for the industrial action are:

  • 12-16 September;
  • 5-7 October and 10-11 October;
  • 14-18 November; and
  • 5-9 December.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said up to 100,000 operations and 1 million appointments could be postponed by the first week of action. Prime minister Theresa May backed Mr Hunt, describing him as an “excellent health secretary” and accused the BMA of “playing politics”.

Southern Health boss steps down

Katrina Percy, the chief executive of Southern Health Foundation Trust, has been under huge pressure since the publication of the Mazars report last December, which highlighted failures at the trust to investigate and learn from patient deaths.

After weathering an eight-month storm of media scrutiny and daily calls for her resignation on social media, it finally happened: on Tuesday morning Ms Percy stood down.

Ms Percy said she had taken the decision because “the ongoing personal media attention” had made her role untenable.

Addressing the people who asked why she hadn’t resigned months earlier, Ms Percy said she had “firmly believed” it was her responsibility “to oversee the necessary improvements” at the trust, and to press on with “the ground-breaking work” it is doing as part of the South Hampshire vanguard.

Ms Percy will be taking on a new role “providing strategic advice to local GP leaders” as they work on the vanguard. Southern Health confirmed Ms Percy would continue to be employed by the trust, and be paid the same salary – between £185,000 and £190,000 a year.

It’s time to publish the STPs

The general media was awash last week with reports of “alarm at NHS plans for closures and cuts”, as details of what is being put into some sustainability and transformation plans has spilled into the public domain, fuelled by campaign group 38 Degrees.

“Not unfair”, you might argue, given the compromises that are having to be made under severely constrained budgets.

But those stories seized on some odd examples: rationalisation plans for hospital sites in Leicestershire and the Black Country that had been in the public domain for years – and in the case of the latter, a suggestion that a hospital that is still being built was going to lose its A&E (it isn’t).

Of course there will be controversial stuff in the STPs but in some cases reconfiguration plans will, like these, already be socialised in the local area.

Concern about what is going on with STPs is being exacerbated by unnecessary secrecy, encouraged by the centre and irritating to most STP leaders, who want to get on and publish them.

Several areas have more work to do, particularly on the gory detail of impact on “heads and beds”, while national officials would like to retain a power of veto to demand changes. But time is running out fast and, for the majority, no huge rewrites are going to happen by the 21 October deadline.

Mental health trusts take the lead

Two of the largest mental health trusts in the country have become the first to receive the highest rating from the Care Quality Commission.

The leaderships of both Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust and East London FT were both praised by inspectors, who judged both organisations to be outstanding overall.

CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals Paul Lelliott said both organisation’s leaders valued the input of frontline staff and hoped they would act as “exemplars” for other mental health providers to aspire to.

While both chief executives stressed there are lots of areas where they can drive forward improvements internally, they are more than happy to share their knowledge and best practice with other providers.

NTW boss John Lawlor said he and East London chief executive Navina Evans had agreed to “twin” their knowledge so they could spread best practice to the north and south.

Hospitals’ training funding cut

Following last year’s comprehensive spending review, the impact of cuts that were applied to the Department of Health and arm’s length bodies has been trickling through.

The latest to emerge is a direct funding cut to NHS hospitals courtesy of Health Education England and the DH, which decided to cut the £2.4bn education and training tariff by 2 per cent in 2016-17 – that’s £48m.

The tariff is used by HEE to cover the costs of trusts for training staff including nurses, junior doctors and medical students. The cut to the tariff won’t mean numbers of trainees fall, but it will mean trusts will have to absorb the extra costs, which effectively means their pay bill just got considerably more expensive.