Weekly political news round up – 20th October 2017

Overview

This week, a Scottish Lib Dem MSP has called for a national incontinence strategy in a motion tabled in the Scottish Parliament. Labour has warned of the significant variation in access to child health checks from health visitors across England; and several NHS procurement contracts are expected to be awarded to their incumbent providers by the Department of Health. The European Council has decided not to progress to the next stage of Brexit negotiations for now; the release of the 2016 NHS England staff survey has shown concerns from its employees about decision-making; and the chief executive of NHS Providers has set out three NHS challenges which need to be addressed in the Budget.

Scottish Lib Dems call for national incontinence strategy

A Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton, has tabled a motion calling for a national incontinence strategy in the Scottish Parliament. While discussing incontinence which can occur in women after childbirth, the motion recognises that “incontinence has the potential to affect everyone at some point”, and “acknowledges the taboo around the subject which, [the Scottish Parliament] believes, suppresses an open discussion about it and often prevents people experiencing the condition from seeking help”. He calls for a national incontinence for health and wellbeing benefits as well as cost savings, citing an estimate that incontinence has associated costs of approximately £25 billion a year in Australia.

Speaking about the motion, Cole-Hamilton said, “There’s a view that it’s only linked with old age or infirmity, but it has the potential to affect all age groups and demographics.” In the Scottish Parliament, motions are submitted to “initiate debate or propose a course of action”, and this motion is classed as having achieved cross party support, as it has been supported by six other MSPs.

Labour warns of “huge” variation in health visitor checks

Labour has warned that statistics from NHS Digital show the “huge” variation in the proportion of children receiving required health checks across England. The statistics demonstrated that there were 8,588 health visitors working in the NHS in June, a 9.5% decline from the previous year, and which follows a pledge from the Conservatives while in coalition to increase the health visitor workforce by 50%. The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth commented on the statistics at the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association’s conference in Cardiff, labelling them “a damning indictment of the Government’s commitment to tackling child ill health.”

Regionally, only about half of children in London are seen by a health visitor around the time they turn one – and this is as little as 3% in Greenwich. About 61% of children in London receive the two-and-a-half-year check, compared with 90% in the North East and 71% in the South West.

NHS procurement contracts awarded to incumbent providers

It has been reported that the Department of Health is intending to award several significant NHS procurement contracts to their incumbent providers. Ten contracts were tendered to run category towers – which will manage the procurement of certain categories of products once the NHS Future Operating Model is introduced by autumn 2018, replacing the current NHS Supply Chain. These category towers will manage the procurement of items from medical equipment and capital equipment to NHS food and hotel services. Sources have told HSJ that the incumbents NHS Collaborative Procurement Partnership and DHL – which is thought to have partnered with the Oxford Academic Health Science Network and an American health analytics company – will likely be given three contracts each, worth £112 million in total. DHL currently runs the NHS Supply Chain, which covers 40% of the NHS’s expenditure on equipment.

The procurement was intended to increase the proportion of the products procured in secondary care by the category towers to 80%, from the current figure of 40% for NHS Supply Chain, and is hoped to save £600 million overall. A DH spokesperson said that the successful bidders would be announced in due course.

Other health and industry developments

Brexit: European Council delays trade negotiations

The European Council met this week to debate the circumstances under which Brexit negotiations could move on from divorce talks to working out the future trading relationship. It was evident before the meeting that the Council did not believe sufficient progress had been made to move onto the second phase of talks, but the remaining member states confirmed that they will start to discuss the future trading relationship with the UK without its involvement for the time being. Theresa May said that she is feeling “ambitious and positive” about the talks, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that they were making progress in the negotiations, “step by step”. This tone in negotiations is thought to be derived from a concern among EU leaders that any criticisms of May could further weaken her position in the UK and disrupt talks.

2016 NHS England staff survey shows concerns over decision-making

The results of NHS England’s 2016 staff survey have been made public following a Freedom of Information disagreement between Simon Stevens and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The survey found that only 41% of NHS England staff believe its leaders made decisions in line with the organisation’s values, and 46% said they felt safe challenging how things were done at NHS England. At the time, 35% of staff did not intend to still be working at NHS England in 12 months, and only 47% could do their job without working excessive hours.

NHS Providers sets out three NHS challenges

The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, has outlined the challenges for the NHS which need to be addressed in the upcoming Autumn Budget in an article for HSJ. Hopson says that the Government needs to make available capital funding to reduce the NHS’s backlog maintenance bill, estimated to be £5.5 billion, and to give capital to STPs to help them achieve their transformation goals. He also argued that any pay rise for NHS staff must be funded by the Government, and potentially targeted at specific workforce groups with particularly acute recruitment issues.

Finally, Hopson said that the NHS is in a trap of “There isn’t enough funding to cope with rising demand and meet performance targets but it’s yet to be widely accepted that the targets are undeliverable without the extra funding.” He warns that the NHS shouldn’t promise to deliver further efficiencies in exchange for more funding, as he says this is not realistic.