NHS finances have been ‘stretched to the limit’, influential think tank The King’s Fund has warned, plus the rest of today’s news and comment

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3.55pm Unite has lodged an injunction against Northampton General Hospital because they claim the trust has breached employment regulations that prohibit using staff supplied through an employment business to replace striking staff.  

The biomedical scientists had their electronic access cards for the pathology lab at the trust blocked after a row over pay and changes in working hours.

Barrie Brown, Unite national officer said: “The trust’s aim all along has been to break the morale of its dedicated staff, and now it seems it is also prepared to flout the law and risk patient safety to achieve this.

“We now suspect the trust of playing semantics with the letter of the law by encouraging some agency workers to set themselves up as limited companies in a deliberate bid to circumvent Regulation 7.

“We believe this use of agency staff is unlawful. If it is the case that they have had just three weeks training on the hospital’s complex blood testing and transfusion machines, we fear that this is inadequate-and potentially could risk patients’ safety.

2.45pm HSJ, working with Bird & Bird, is seeking to celebrate healthcare’s top innovators – the people who have found new, innovative ways of tackling the challenges facing healthcare.

The closing date for nominations is Monday 1 September.

1.42pm Foundation trusts delivered a surplus in the last financial year which was less than a third of the £500m delivered in 2012-13.

In the latest accounts the sector delivered a surplus of £134m. In a sign of the growing financial pressure on the system 41 out of the 147 foundation trusts reported a deficit at the end of the financial year, compared to 21 in 2012/13.

A report to a meeting of Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee this week shows the firm, NSL, has been struggling on six key targets for taking patients to and from the county’s hospitals.

The latest confirmed performance figures, which cover until the end of May, show it was falling significantly short on targets including for the proportion of patients arriving at hospital within an hour of their appointment time; the proportion collected to return home within an hour; for timely collection of renal patients; and for discharges and transfer booked on the day.

12.48pm Finances in the NHS are being stretched to the limit, a new report from the King’s Fund concludes.

The Foundation Trust Network has responded by saying that the Better Care Fund should be used to ensure that “lasting improvements to services are developed”.

Siva Anandaciva, head of analysis at the FTN, said: “Deficits are clearly increasing in the NHS provider sector and affecting trusts with good financial track records. Last year NHS trusts and foundation trusts reported over a £100m deficit and our members tell us this is likely to triple by the end of this year.

“It is essential that the Better Care Fund planning process achieves its full potential by ensuring through genuine engagement with providers that lasting improvements to services are developed. It would be a missed opportunity to fall into the trap of using the fund to focus plans on what capacity might be taken out of acute hospitals, rather than what capacity should be invested in community services to support new models of care.

“Last month the Commonwealth Fund published a report that confirms the NHS delivers world class efficiency, quality, access and equity. However, this achievement is being skilfully delivered by a service operating at the edges of capacity and at real risk of financial unsustainability next year. This week the Kings Fund has echoed the FTN’s call for called for a transformation fund, and Monitor and NHS England publish their early thoughts on the 2015-16 national tariff. This is  the opportunity that must be taken to prevent the financial crisis the NHS is facing.”

12.06pm The Times has given its support to the introduction of a special measures for care homes. Its leader column says Jeremy Hunt “said what many have experienced- that care is inadequate  and that there are too many homes in which he would not leave his relatives”.

The paper suggests the CQC should have greater powers against failing care providers: “It may be that the CQC should have gone further and established a licencing system, and the ability to strike those off found wanting.”

11.20am The Daily Mail reports that Norman Lamb will support the reforms to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill who have less than six months to live.

In a response to a statement by Jeremy Hunt yesterday, he announced the CQC will begin a series of more rigorous, unannounced inspections of all 25,000 care homes and homecare services in October.

10.51am The Guardian reports the result of a poll which suggests that voters remain wedded to Britain’s taxpayer funded model of healthcare even as NHS leaders question its sustainability.

Asked how they would tackle the future funding of medicine, voters are resolved by a margin of more than two to one that “raising taxes for everybody, to put more money in” is the right way to go.

Analysis by NHS England and outside experts points to a large funding gap that could reach £30bn by the end of by the end of the decade.

The King’s Fund said that there are “huge pressures” on the health service’s purse strings after a quarter of finance directors at hospital trusts in England said that they expect to overspend their budgets this year.

Its latest report on NHS money woes found “a distinct lack of optimism about the general state of the finances” with 85 per cent of the 73 finance directors polled saying they were fairly or very pessimistic about money for the next year.

The King’s Fund said that “cracks are beginning to appear” in performance as a result of the growing financial pressures.

The criticism came in an inspection report, published today, which rated the leadership of Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust as “inadequate” and the trust overall as “requires improvement”.

The report stated that after CQC inspectors had finished their on-site visits of the trust “the CQC were made aware via a whistleblower that the trust had received further allegations of manipulation of waiting lists in a service within the trust”. It continued: “The trust failed to notify the CQC of the findings of an external review. The CQC would expect the trust to share this data with the inspection team.”

9.55am More than a third of clinical commissioning groups have no plans to retender their community services, an HSJ investigation has revealed. The findings prompted warnings from competition experts that the groups could face legal challenge from would-be providers.

Of 195 CCGs that responded to HSJ’s freedom of information requests, 72 commissioners holding community services contracts worth at least £2.3bn annually said they had no plans to retender.

Seven CCGs had already retendered contracts worth around £156m in total, and 39 had plans to retender £998m worth of contracts by 2017.

9.50am Good morning. A recent survey by the College of Emergency Medicine significantly underestimates the impact of urgent care centres on A&E attendance, argues Sam Benghhiat in our Comment section.