Policy confusion over FT mergers, integration fund rules and the rest of today’s news and comment

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2.20pm: Dr Sarah Woollaston MP, a member of the Health Select Committee has tweeted: “R.I.P. public health. A day of shame for this government; the only winners big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers.”

2.15pm: The government has denied claims it gave in to lobbying by the tobacco industry after plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging were put on hold.

Health groups and doctors have criticised the move, which comes as the government confirmed plans to set a minimum price for alcohol in England are to be formally abandoned.

A decision on plain packaging has been delayed so more time can be spent examining how similar plans have worked in Australia where it has already been implemented.

Health minister Anna Soubry said she “would never give into pressure” and awaiting more evidence was “sensible”.

But Labour said it was a “humiliating u-turn.”

1.25pm: Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust is encouraging administrative staff to volunteer for work as care assistants on its wards.

In a move criticised by unions, the trust said it is piloting a scheme allowing non-clinical staff to work a “small” part of their weekly hours on elderly care wards.

In a statement chief nurse Sally Napper told HSJ the volunteers “may spend time talking to patients, guiding visitors to ensure they follow infection prevention procedures or have undertaken training to enable them to assist patients at mealtimes, complementing the work of the nursing staff”.

Read the full story here.

1.00pm: Foundation Trust Network chief executive Chris Hopson has written on his hsj.co.uk blog: “Thanks to a decade of investment at unprecedented levels, the sheer effort of a committed workforce and the vision of a new government, we have lifted the NHS to the standards of other advanced Western democracies.”

But he says we need “a proper national debate on how much we invest in the NHS and the kind of NHS we want to see” if the service is to avoid moving backwards.

12.43pm: The government’s decision not to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products (see 10.08am) but keep the policy under review is a “tame surrender” to the tobacco industry, according to the Smokefree Action Coalition.

The public health alliance said if health secretary Jeremy Hunt is truly committed to public health then tackling smoking should be his top priority.

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (one of the members of the SAC), said: “We are extremely disappointed that the government has backed down from taking this essential step to protect children’s health… Standardised packaging is urgently needed to cut smoking uptake and prevent smoking related deaths.”

12.36pm: Following on from Nigel Edward’s comment piece about the NHS’s estate (see 11.17am), asset management consultancy Currie and Brown has also said the service must find innovative procurement solutions to improve efficiency and deliver savings to meet financial constraints.

Director James Hackett said: “The NHS will have to continue to make best use of available investment and this means that large scale efficiencies must be achieved through service reconfiguration and best use of the resultant asset base.

“Optimising the use of property assets while making new investment and at the same time tackling backlog costs is a major challenge and one that has to be achieved if we are to meet future demand.”

12.23pm: Also in HSJ’s Opinion section, David Oliver urges caution towards Jeremy Hunt’s policy of to assign a named clinician to vulnerable elderly patients, as revealed to HSJ last month.

Mr Oliver writes: “It’s woefully short on crucial detail. Who will we define as sufficiently ‘vulnerable’ to merit the ‘named clinician’? How long after discharge will the arrangement continue? What are the consequences of ‘accountability’ for the ‘named’ doctor or nurse?

12.21pm: Socialist Health Association chair Richard Bourne argues that local authorities should run the commissioning of health services.

He writes: “Local authorities are better managed than health services (in terms of procurement, sharing services, service integration, commissioning). They are many years ahead on the ‘best value’ journey. They are also far better at resisting vested interests and conflicts of interest: it’s one reason why we have democracy.”

12.00pm: The Academy of Medical Sciences has warned progress towards personalised medicines is being held back by the way drug prices are set.

The current system fails to provide good incentives for developing effective new drugs that work for specific groups of patients, a report by the academy said.

11.43am: NHS England and the Local Government Association are jointly developing a set of criteria that councils must meet in order to receive a share of the new £3.8bn health and social care fund.

The £3.8bn budget, taken from NHS funds, was announced by chancellor George Osborne in last month’s spending review. It will be used to fund social care services for elderly people in order to reduce pressure on the NHS.

Senior local government figures have expressed concerns that the money would come with strict rules attached, limiting the freedom of councils and local NHS groups to develop their own plans.

11.17am: Nigel Edwards writes: “Little real attention has been given to how this huge resource could help to improve efficiency, move more care out of hospitals and exploit new technologies. Models of care remain designed around buildings.”

He says that by rethinking how the NHS uses its estate, especially the £5.4bn worth of neglected property, the service can save money and improve patient care.

11.07am: Liverpool Women’s Foundation Trust board papers show it will market its redesigned abortion service to women in Ireland.

The trust’s termination of pregnancy service is to be redesigned so women having medical terminations can be seen on an outpatient basis. The board papers said: “This reconfigured service will be marketed to a wider group of women including those living in Ireland.”

10.47am: Policy surrounding NHS service change has been labelled a “mess” after the first merger between foundation trusts was blocked on the same day as NHS England’s chief executive demanded radical service reconfiguration nationwide, HSJ reports.

The chief executives of the two foundation trusts whose proposed merger was blocked by the Competition Commission yesterday − Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals and Poole Hospital − have branded the body’s process inappropriate and called for it to be reviewed.

10.35am: A child protection course highly regarded by paediatricians and accident and emergency doctors is to be offered to specialist paediatric dentists to help them identify children at risk of abuse.

The “Safeguarding Children: Recognition and Response in Child Protection” course, run jointly by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Advanced Life Support Group, the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry and the NSPCC, will be expanded to include a “dental stream”.

10.20am: The Care Quality Commission will recruit around 200 social care professionals to help it deliver its 2013-14 programme of inspections; 80 have already been identified from the pool of people recruited last year.

“Bank inspectors” will be contracted to support the delivery of the CQC’s 2013-14 inspection programme, which includes over 39,000 scheduled inspections. 

These inspectors will be working under the direction of permanent CQC staff and will receive training in inspecting, making judgements and report writing, as well as how to deal with whistleblowers and safeguarding issues.

Candidates will have to have extensive skills and experience in the health and social care field to be able to ensure that essential standards of quality and safety are met by providers and that the quality of care and support to service users is improved.

10.08am: The Department of Health has published the summary report of the responses to the public consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products.

The government has decided to wait to see how effective the approach is in Australia before making a final decision on the policy. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Obviously we take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England.”

8:45am: Good morning, the new NHS change model has at its apex leadership for change and the spread of innovation. The group often held as responsible for making this kind of innovation happen has been the formal leaders in the NHS − the chief executives, managers, clinical and medical directors. An often underused resource for change and spreading innovation to improve services for patients in the NHS is trainee doctors.

Today on HSJ’s Leadership channel, Patrick Marshall and Clare Penlington say that by empowering trainee doctors to undertake service improvement projects they can share their broad hospital experience and learn about leadership in the process.