Weekly political news round up – 23rd February 2018

Overview

This week, it has emerged that the Health Select Committee has renamed its inquiry into STPs to the ‘Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems inquiry’, and announced that the first evidence session will take place on 27th February. The inquiry will examine the effectiveness of STPs in joining up health and social care across their footprints; query the reliability of NHS England’s STP progress dashboard; discuss the development of accountable care within regional health economies; and discuss legislative barriers and public engagement.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has responded this week to health service failures by ordering a crackdown on drug dispensing errors and a nine-month review into the response to concerns about medical treatments, including vaginal mesh devices. Hunt has admitted that mistakes involving the dispensing of medicines in the NHS is causing “appalling levels of harm and death”, with research showing such errors contribute to around 22,000 fatalities per year. Facing demands for a full public inquiry following the vaginal mesh scandal, the Health Secretary has instead launched a prolonged review that will also examine the regulation of the hormone pregnancy test drug Primodos and the controversial anti-epilepsy drug sodium valproate.

NMC nursing proficiency standards to be launched in the spring

The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) Director of Education, Standards and Policy, Geraldine Walters, has published a blog post on the Council’s education programme for nursing and midwifery. The post outlined the NMC’s work since its consultation on new standards of proficiency for nurses last year which received responses from more than 1,000 individuals and nearly 300 organisations. Walters clarified that the standards will be launched in spring of this year, and that the NMC has also undertaken focus groups with charities such as Mencap and Mind to improve the standards of nursing for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, older people, and children and young people. The post also highlighted that the NMC will launch a consultation on the requirements and standards for nursing associates, which will be required once the NMC is the legal regulator for the profession.

Government publishes response to NHS sustainability report

The Government has responded to a report published by the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS and Adult Social Care, which was initially published in April 2017. The Committee’s report made 34 recommendations, including a push to create a “longer-term strategy for service transformation” than the measures outlined in the Five Year Forward View. The Government said that its additional funding allocations in the most recent Budget and other plans around Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) will leave the health and care system “well placed to plan for the future.”

The Committee’s original report also recommended that the Department of Health and Social Care “launch a public consultation on what legislative modifications could be made to the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which would remove the obstacles to new ways of working”. In its response, the Department said it does not consider a change in legislation “necessary to drive forward further integration.” The Committee advised the Government commission a “formal independent review (on) pay policy with a particular regard to its impact on the morale and retention of health and care staff”, to which the Government highlighted its ongoing discussions with the NHS pay review bodies since it announced that the 1% pay cap would be lifted.

NHS Trusts predict £930 million deficit

The NHS has reported that its deficit for the end of 2017/18 is forecast to be £930 million, an increase of £300 million from the previous quarter and nearly twice the £496 million which had been planned for. The figures were published by NHS Improvement, which attributed the poor performance to higher than expected levels of emergency care and lower levels of planned care, which reduced trusts’ income. The report also highlighted that there are nearly 100,000 job vacancies in the NHS, including 35,000 nursing posts and 10,000 doctor posts, leaving around one in 12 jobs in the NHS unfilled.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said that the figures show “this Government has overseen a devastating decline in NHS finances and the result is worsening outcomes for patients, with huge staff shortages and treatments cancelled or delayed.”

Disabled people spend extra £570 per month

Scope has published research showing that disabled people face an average of £570 of additional living costs due to their disability, and generally have less money to live on. The research gave examples of electric wheelchairs costing £9,500, replacement batteries for wheelchairs costing £600, and the price of having an accessible parking bay installed being nearly £4,000. The Chief Executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson, said that “disabled people often have to buy equipment that other people don’t” and noted that in some cases “their condition means disabled people have no choice but to use more of something, like heating.” He also bemoaned the “extortionate rates” charged to disabled people for essential services such as insurance.

Responding to the research, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, pointed to the introduction of personal independence payments to meet the additional costs of disabilities, noting that “29% of people receive the highest rate of support, compared with 15% under disability living allowance.”