Plus the rest of today’s news and comment.

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3.50pm: The president of The College of Emergency Medicine said today that while winter will be tough for NHS A&E departments, he believed the ‘crisis’ is behind us.

Dr Clifford Mann acknowledged that while serious challenges facing the healthcare system remain he said that his organisation is working with the government to put in place what he called a credible plan to address issues raised in the past.

He said that the term ‘crisis’ was adopted at a time when there was no reason for optimism. He added that acute and endemic problems in emergency care throughout the UK were “little spoken of”.

“For the College this combination of circumstances and a lack of a plan for resolution were an existential threat to emergency medicine,” he said.

“It is evident now that key national bodies have acknowledged these issues and are working to deliver credible solutions. The College of Emergency Medicine is keen to play a full and constructive role in this work. In the last few weeks considerable progress has been made in discussions with HEE, Monitor and the DH. Negotiations with employers are ongoing via the BMA, and the Keogh review has identified the need for improved access to alternatives to A&E departments.

“These developments are evidence that we have made progress; but the five key challenges we identified in our document ‘Priorities for Resolving the Emergency Crisis’ remain and their resolution will take significant concerted action over the coming months. Emergency Medicine in the UK is amongst the best in the world and the College intends to do whatever we need to do to make sure this position is safeguarded and advanced.”

3.30pm: Capita has today agreed a strategic five-year relationship with Sussex Community NHS Trust to support the Trust in its aim to improve the quality and sustainability of its patient care services.

A statement from Capita reads:

“This relationship will be the first of its kind in the health market, with Capita using its business transformation and customer management experience to identify efficiencies and better ways of working, and accelerate the pace by which improvements are achieved.  The five year agreement will initially focus on:

  • Strengthening the skills and resources of key Trust clinical care and support service leaders to enable them to better identify and drive change in their areas of responsibility;
  • Transforming the Trust’s property and facilities management infrastructure and services, so that patients and staff benefit from an improved estate; and
  • Helping the Trust’s procurement team to identify opportunities for delivering better value for money from non-salary expenditure so that savings can be reinvested into patient care.

“Capita will provide clinical expertise, service design skills, health intelligence and reporting, and innovative technologies to help support and develop the organisation, services and processes.”

3.15pm: The Patients Association has backed Labour’s call for a reintroduction of the guarantee that patients can see a GP within 48 hours this winter.Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said:

“A&E wards are currently at breaking point from a continued influx of patients who can’t get a quick enough appointment with their GP, as well as having to cope with the inevitable surge during the winter months.  This is clearly too much for A&E services to cope with, however talented or caring the staff working there are.

“We urge the Government to reverse its scrapping of the guarantee that patients can see a GP within 48 hours this winter.

“We also urge the Government to further look into the issue of access to GP care and come up with a long term solution that benefits patients and keeps the pressure off A&E departments for good.”

2.55pm: The NHS Confederation says a “whole system approach” is needed if the recent reports calling for changes to urgent and emergency care and running services across seven days are to become a reality.

With today’s debate in the House of Commons on urgent and emergency care likely to focus on concerns about winter pressures, the NHS Confederation would like to see urgent MPs back reforms so that patients with multiple, long-term and complex conditions are given appropriate care and greater use of local and community services.

The organisation says its members need solutions to cope with the winter demand and there needs to be greater access to local primary and community care, to avoid patients ending up in A&E. It has thrown down the gauntlet to all political parties to help the NHS create the space for change as part of our 2015 Challenge, along with support from NHS England, local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

2.30pm: David Buck, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund, writes in this week’s magazine thatCCGs still face constraints on their budgets. This, he says, is despite NHS England’s new funding formula which shows it is treating health inequalities seriously. Read the full article here.

2.00pm: The chief executives of both Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust and Colchester Hospital University Trust have announced they are to resign.

Averil Dongworth has announced she will leave Barking in March 2014, just as the trust is placed in special measure after the latest Care Quality Commission inspection found evidence of “unsafe care” in its accident and emergency departments.

Dr Gordon Coutts has resigned from Colchester following an investigation into allegations that staff were bullied into manipulating cancer waiting time date data.

1.50pm: A senior NHS official has accused Andy Burnham of ”misinterpreting and misreporting” evidence about taxis being used as ambulances, the Guido Fawkes blog reports.

Ken Wenman, the chief executive of the South Western Ambulance Service accused Burnham’s office of using figures from a Freedom of Information request “in order to present a grossly inaccurate picture for the purposes of apparent political gain”.

1.30pm: Anne Burge, chair of the Alliance for Patient Safety, argues in this week’s issue of HSJ that the government’s response to the Francis report did not go far enough and patients are unlikely to be much safer.

Click here to find out more.

1.20pm: The Royal College of General Practitioners has attacked shadow health secretary Andy Burnham’s call to reinstate 48-hour appointment targets for GPs.

Labour announced earlier today that it intends to introduce a Commons debate to call on the government to reverse what it called the “scrapping of the guarantee” that patients can see a GP within 48 hours this winter.

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “The proposal to bring back the 48-hour target for GPs is an ill-thought out, knee-jerk response to a long-term problem - which is the profound crisis in the NHS caused by the chronic under-funding of general practice.

“Bringing back the target for GP appointments will only make a bad situation worse by transferring more pressure onto general practice - at a time when it is in crisis - which could have a profound impact on the safety of patient care.

“We always felt that the 48-hour target introduced by the previous Labour Government, whilst well intentioned, distorted the smooth-running of general practice. GP access is extremely important but if you prioritise that over everything else, other services suffer and patients often end up worse off.”

1.05pm: Academic health science centres should become the “hubs” of specialised services, according to NHS England’s medical director. Planning guidance unveiled at an NHS England board meeting on Tuesday states: “Academic health science centres will play an important role as the focus for many of these [specialised care centres].”

Click here to read the full story.

12.50pm: A programme in the Midlands and East region to eliminate pressure ulcers – a key indicator of nursing care – is now set to be rolled out nationally. Read the latest report from our Hospital Transformation microsite. You can sign up to our Hospital Transformation email here.

11.25am: BREAKING: Final recommendations issued on Mid Staffs break-up

The administrators appointed to Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust have made some concessions to local campaigners on the services that would be left at the two hospitals it runs.

Accident and emergency services will remain open and a midwife-led maternity unit will be opened at Stafford Hospital, but consultant-led obstetrics services will move to University Hospitals of North Staffordshire Trust.

Inpatient paediatric services will also move but a paediatric assessment unit will run alongside the A&E.

Question marks remain over the trust’s financial position, with a deficit remaining even after the administrator’s proposals are implemented.

The trust will be dissolved by the end of Autumn 2014 with staff transferred to either North Staffordshire or Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust.

The decision will need to be approved by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in the new year.

More to follow

11.15am: The Trust Special Administrators for Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust today announced their final recommendations for the future of the services currently provided by Stafford and Cannock Chase hospitals.

They include:

  • The recommendation that a Midwife Led Unit (MLU) be established at Stafford Hospital which will be managed in a maternity network with other providers.
  • A confirmation that the Paediatric Assessment Unit at Stafford will be run in conjunction with the A&E department, led and delivered by paediatric trained emergency doctors and paediatric nurses. Children who require overnight stay will be treated/ cared for at other local hospitals
  • A clarification of the arrangements for critical care, to allow for patients to remain at Stafford as long as there is immediate availability of the necessary staff, this will be reviewed on a case by case basis.

The TSAs also concluded that Stafford Hospital should be operated by University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust and Cannock Chase Hospital should be operated by Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust. The responsibility for the staff at Stafford and Cannock will transfer to UHNS and RWT respectively.

More follows…

11.00am: A hospital trust has reached financial close on a £429m deal to demolish and rebuild its main hospital site, clearing the way for construction to start in February 2014.

The project includes a £335m private finance initiative deal for construction and ongoing maintenance of a new hospital, financed by a combination of equity and debt to be repaid over 31 years. To find out which trust has just signed one of the ‘lowest cost public private deals ever’, click here.

10.50am: Our reporter Will Hazell is at today’s Care Quality Commission board meeting, tweeting developments live from @whazell. Follow him and use the hastag #cqcboard.

10.40am: A plan to increase the numbers of doctors working in over-stretched emergency departments across England has been unveiled by Health Education England.

The report, supported by the College of Emergency Medicine, will see extra emergency medicine training posts created annually for junior doctors over a three year period starting in 2014. For more details, and to read the rest of Shaun Lintern’s story click here.

10.35am: In The Guardian, health correspondent Denis Campbell writes: “The coalition’s radical restructuring of the NHS in England on 1 April turned out not to be the issue of the year. Instead it was Robert Francis’s landmark report into Mid Staffs that set the agenda: exposure and intolerance of failure in patient care or safety, with a blizzard of reviews and initiatives to address many of the problems the QC identified, such as tackling endemic understaffing by publishing for the first time details of how many nurses were on duty.”

Also in The Guardian, research the charity Cancer Research UK has found that cancer death rates have fallen by more than a fifth since the 1990s.

10.32am: Thousands of babies die needlessly every year because hospitals don’t do basic checks on pregnant women according to academics at the Perinatal Institute and reported by The Times.

Professor Jason Gardosi said that avoidable baby deaths happen at the rate of “a classroom a week” because tape measures and charts were not being used properly by hospitals. NHS England has urged hospitals to improve the way they measure growth.

According to scientists from Oxford University an apple a day can keep the doctor away, the same paper reports.

The scientists ran a simulation of the effects of everyone in Britain over the age of 50 taking statins daily versus apples. They found that statins would save 9,400 lives while apples would save 8,500. Writing in the British Medical Journal’s Christmas special the scientists called for a public intervention using fruit bu said that the “difficulty associated with consuming an apple” may be “challenging”.

An annual study of UK drinking habits found that one in five pensioners drinks at least five days a week.

The Office for National Statistics survey also found that middle-aged men and women were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol every day than those in their late 20s to early 40s.

23 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women aged 65 or over admitted drinking almost every day. Only 4 per cent of the youngest age group, 16 to 24, were likely to drink five days a week.

10.30am: The Mail also writes that the number of elderly people being given state-funded care in their homes has dropped by a quarter in just five years.

Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal that now a total of 1.3 million people receive state-funded home-help or a place in a care home, compared to 1.7 million in 2007/8.

10.15am: The Daily Mail leads with the results of a national survey revealing that women over 65 drink more than their younger counterparts.

The report, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, suggests that one in seven women in that age group consumes alcohol at least five days a week.

10.00am: Here’s the best of the morning papers’ healthcare stories:

The Daily Telegraph reports that thousands of NHS managers and other staff who received pay-offs have been rehired, with more than 400 back on the payroll only weeks after taking redundancy.

The paper writes that figures given to the House of Commons health select committee show that 19,000 staff were given redundancy payment under the government’s reorganisation of the NHS and almost one in five has returned.

7.00am: Welcome to HSJ Live. Over the Christmas period we are bringing you a round-up of the best articles from our Leadership, Commissioning and Innovation and Efficiency channels.

This morning, take a look at our best commissioning articles from 2013, including a patient’s view on out of hours care and Clare Gerada discussing the highs and lows of her tenure as chair of the Royal College of GPs.