This week's 'road testing' of the payment by results tariff for 2007-08 will, the Department of Health hopes, result in considerably less noise than the late and broken one released in January. The DoH says it is not looking for any comment or complaint about what the tariff should or should not be; it wants the service to restrict its attention to whether it works correctly or not.
Assuming the sums do work, in most respects the new tariff makes a virtue out of its lack of novelty. Nothing radical is being done to the basic structure, no new areas of care are being introduced and the purchasing parity adjustment is being phased out in the expected way.
The DoH makes much of how early release and this continuity will help planning - although local trusts will not actually be able to cement their plans until 24 November has passed without any alarm bells being sounded by colleagues in other parts of the country.
The main area to elicit comment will be the work on unbundling the tariff - key to the work of many trusts in redesigning services away from a traditional acute setting. The emphasis is on giving some indicative information, but leaving the initiative for negotiations in the hands of local managers. The DoH says this is to make sure decisions are clinically led, which is a salient point. But it is equally true that its own lack of good national data makes central prescription difficult.
For trusts, the freedom is a double-edged sword. Many will support the lack of central mandate and the promise that the DoH will be more ambitious next year if trusts show an appetite. On the other hand, they will need to have confidence in their data - and it seems unlikely that poor systems could be improved quickly enough to have an impact on unbundling next year.