Your essential update on health for the week.

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.

Look who’s ‘coasting’ now

Jeremy Hunt has accused some private sector hospitals of having “coasted” on safety, and warned they could be made to pay costs when the NHS has to take over care of their patients, in a strongly-worded intervention via an exclusive HSJ interview.

He told HSJ some “had coasted” on improving safety standards, and has written to private provider chiefs to ask them to up their game.

With reference to the appearance of some private hospitals, he told HSJ: “It’s sadly not the case that just because you have a nice reception and carpeted corridors that automatically means that care is going to be of an equally high quality.” Ouch.

This unusual intervention seems to have elicited a more relaxed popular reaction than the last time the health and social care secretary famously deployed the C word.

Back in 2013, around the time of the Francis report, he said some NHS organisations were “coasting” on safety, prompting obligatory grumpiness on the part of NHS staff and representatives, who apparently felt they were working jolly hard.

Hunt’s integration ambition

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has told HSJ he wants the government’s long term funding plan for the NHS to be “ambitious” and to deliver big change to the service. This means meeting performance targets again and delivering transformational care by using more technology – while at the same time delivering the “full integration of health and social care”.

Mr Hunt was clear he believes the plan, promised by Theresa May in March, had to deliver enough funding for both transformation and day to day performance otherwise, he warned, the service would not be sustainable enough to handle 1 million more over-75s in 10 years.

He described the change in funding model for the NHS as one of the service’s “big moments” and said moving away from “haphazard planning” would allow significant change to be delivered.

His comments will be welcomed by many but also will attract cynicism over whether the plan can actually deliver on both the transformation and performance fronts. Many NHS managers will recall the spin around the Five Year Forward View, which has not delivered any substantial transformation funding for the NHS. Most of the sustainability and transformation funding, for example, has gone to fill the bottom lines of trusts sinking deeper into the red – as it was always destined to do.

Mr Hunt’s big moment can’t not deliver this time.

Don’t blame the IT

A former top screening adviser to the government has challenged key claims it has made in the ongoing storm about “serious failings” in breast screening, including that problems were caused by a “computer algorithm failure”.

Dame Valerie Beral was chair of Department of Health and Social Care’s Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening from 2002 to 2011, so knows a thing or two about the programme. She currently co-directs the major breast screening age extension trial (AgeX) at Oxford University.

Dame Valerie told HSJ she did not agree with a number of assertions made about what had happened, including that there had been a “computer algorithm failure”. Instead she thinks the issue may be the result of a big misunderstanding about how the screening programme operates – specifically how cohorts are selected to be invited.

Quarterly warning

Another set of quarterly statistics provided further evidence that this winter was the worst for a very long time, while other datasets in the latest monthly NHS England data dump showed return to constitutionally mandated standards remained a long way off.

Data published on Thursday showed the number of NHS operations cancelled last minute hit the highest rate in over a decade in the last quarter of 2017-18 – and rocketed 20 per cent on the same period in the previous year.

There were 25,475 operations cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons by NHS providers between January and March 2018, up from 21,219 in the same quarter the previous year, according to NHS England data published today. This is on top of planned cancellations.

Don’t scare the horses

The independent panel commissioned by prime minister Theresa May to review the Mental Health Act 1983 published its interim findings last week.

In an interview with HSJ, panel chair Professor Sir Simon Wessely followed its publication by sending a warning shot across the bows of the Treasury – the panel’s recommendations will call for more cash for the sector.

We do not yet know what this figure might be, and probably won’t until the final report and recommendations are published in November or December.

But it places an important marker in the sand over where Sir Simon and his team see the report going.

It also piles the pressure on Ms May and the Department of Health and Social Care. Sir Simon and his team were commissioned to produce the report by the PM herself, when she made her pre-election pledge to rip up and replace the “flawed” act last year.

Sir Simon is very aware of the knife edge the panel is walking – ask for too little and major change is unlikely, but ask for too much and you risk “terrifying the horses so they bolt out of the stable”. This could leave the review gathering dust in the House of Commons library.

That would be a tremendous shame because as the interim findings make clear, the act and the way it is put into practice are long overdue an overhaul.