• Trusts should open more beds this winter, says NHSE chief
  • Says “pensions crisis” won’t help
  • Calls on ministers to back new child obesity measures

Simon Stevens has urged trust bosses to “think carefully” about how many beds they have open this winter and said “ideally” there should be more in total than last year. 

The NHS England and Improvement chief executive’s call follows comments in June, when he said acute trusts would need to increase their bed base during the next five years.

It would represent a significant reversal of efforts, after many years of reductions in inpatient beds, linked to reductions in hospital stays and intentions to provide more care in the community.

Asked about the NHS’s priorities for winter, Mr Stevens said at NHS Providers annual conference in Manchester today: “We want to see more people getting their flu jab… We have got a million more vaccines available to use.

“Secondly, we want to go into the winter with as many hospital beds open as we can – ideally more than last year.

“In June I said, looking at evidence, we should not be planning on the basis that there will be further reductions in acute hospital beds over the next five years, and [it’s] important, as people are doing their long term implementation plans locally, they are thinking carefully about that.”

He acknowledged that staffing the beds may be more difficult because of the ”pensions crisis” caused by changes in tax rules, which is meaning many senior clinicians, especially doctors, choosing to work fewer hours.

Mr Stevens also urged ministers to back the recommendations of a report by outgoing chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies which is expected to set out the evidence for taxes on unhealthy foods to curb childhood obesity.

On her imminent review of what should be done to meet the government’s target of halving childhood obesity by 2030, he said: “We should be led by the evidence and the evidence is going to be set out very soon by [Dame Sally] and I hope her findings will be taken very seriously.

He added: “I supported, in fact advocated, a sugar tax precisely because it was felt that it would lead to the reformulation of the amount of added sugar in fizzy drinks, not because it would put the price up per se, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

“When you look at the evidence of whether the sugar tax has worked, the answer is, it has.”

He was also critical of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to award a sponsorship deal to KP Snacks for its new tournament, The Hundred.

He said: “It is disappointing despite the good that sports can do…when you see, for example, the English cricket board doing a [sponsorship] deal with junk food aimed at children for the Cricket 100.

“I would hope that when those sorts of deals are being considered in the future people make a different choice.”

Vanilla finance

Mr Stevens also spoke at the Healthcare Estates conference today where he told delegates private investment would no longer be used as a “vanilla financing answer” for NHS infrastructure projects.

Asked about NHS use of private capital in future, Mr Stevens said it would still draw on the commercial sector’s skills and services; and it would work in partnerships with companies.

He said there would be situations where accessing private investment would be sensible, such as in social care, equipment and technology.

But he said: “We must look at each case on its merit but it’s [private capital] not going to be the default route.”