“Research highlights worrying need for hospital emergency beds”

Owl says: you could not make this up.

“Hospitals in England are relying on backup beds to carry out routine care, research has found.

Hospitals in England are relying on backup beds to carry out routine care, research has found.

Reliance on emergency beds suggests NHS trusts are at a “critical stage” and struggling to cope with demand, the British Medical Association has said.

The BMA submitted two waves of Freedom of Information requests to all 134 acute trusts in England in March and May 2019, which revealed the extent to which ‘escalation beds’ were being used routinely.

The first round of data received responses from 105 trusts showing that there were 3,428 escalation beds in operation.

In May, according to responses from 54 trusts, there were 1,637 instances of the these beds being used, though the BMA noted that due to a lower response rate, the real figure is likely to be higher.

The beds are only supposed to be used in emergencies and when there is a spike in demand.

Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “The use of escalation beds is a sign that trusts are at a critical stage and are unable to cope with demand with their current bed stock.

“Some hospitals are forced to designate their theatre recovery beds as ‘escalation’, resulting in elective surgical operation being cancelled as there is no space for those patients who need immediate care after their surgery.”

Harwood noted that the pressure on capacity can see patients placed on beds in corridors and overcrowding treatment areas.

The BMA said that while escalation beds were traditionally used mainly in the winter, this was no longer the case as the number used in the first week of April was comparable to those in early January. There was an average of 20 escalation beds used per trust in early April and the start of January.

A total of 3,000 extra beds are needed to stop routine use of escalation beds outside of winter, while up to 10,000 are needed to bring occupancy to safe levels, the BMA estimated.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, said: “The use of escalation beds is yet another sign that hospitals are struggling to cope under continued pressure. We know this is compromising patient care.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/06/research-highlights-worrying-need-hospital-emergency-beds

Cross-county working for health care: Axminster, Seaton, Lyme Regis

“Three towns are joining forces in a bid to improve healthcare provision in the Axe and Lym valleys.

Seaton, Axminster and Lyme Regis have formed a powerful alliance which will represent a combined population of some 40,000 residents.

Working together as the Axe Valley Health Forum the group believes it will have a stronger voice.

The new organisation will work with the NHS on the delivery of a health and care model that fits its demographic.

The vision is to establish a ‘place based system of care’ to meet the specific needs of the people of the Axe Valley where all voices within the community are listened to and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the design of services.

The aim will be to improve health and wellbeing for everyone living within the place identified as the Axe Valley – this includes Seaton, Axminster, Lyme Regis and the surrounding communities.

The Forum will consist of elected community representatives, health and social care providers and volunteers. …”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/seaton-axminster-and-lyme-join-forces-1-6099018

“Around 50 hospital beds are blocked each day by patients fit to leave at the Royal Devon and Exeter Trust”

Owl says: In the past many of these patients would have been transferred to local community hospitals, where they would be rehabilitated to go home or moved to local facilities, leaving RDE to use the unblocked beds for new acute patients:

“With elderly patients often stuck waiting to be signed off, there is concern over the impact delays can have on their health.

According to the NHS, a hospital stay of more than 10 days for a person over 80 can lead to 10 years of muscle ageing.

NHS England figures show that in February, patients at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust spent a total of 1,398 days waiting to be discharged or transferred to a different care facility. …”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/bed-blocking-at-the-royal-devon-and-exeter-trust-1-6042162

“Public Accounts Committee calls for ‘step change’ in transparency in local public bodies”

“There is a need for a step change in transparency by local public bodies and particularly those in the NHS, MPs have said.

In a report, Auditing local government, the Public Accounts Committee noted that in 2017-18, auditors found that more than 1 in 5 local public bodies did not have proper arrangements in place to secure value for money for taxpayers.

“The numbers are worst for local NHS bodies such as clinical commissioning groups and hospital trusts, where 38% did not have proper arrangements,” it said.

The MPs added that some local bodies were not putting enough information in the public domain about their performance, including reports from their external auditors.

The report called on central government departments to make clear their expectations, “not only for what is made publicly available, but also for making the information accessible to users and so helping citizens to hold local bodies to account”.

The PAC said there appeared to be few consequences for those local bodies who did not take auditors’ concerns seriously and address them promptly. “Even where local auditors use their additional reporting powers to highlight failings, this does not always lead to the bodies taking immediate action.”

The report also recorded the MPs’ concern that, as partnership working becomes more complex, accountability arrangements will be weakened, and the performance of individual local bodies will become less transparent.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “Taxpayers must be assured that their money is well-spent but in too many cases local bodies cannot properly safeguard value. Particularly concerning are NHS bodies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospital trusts: last year almost two in five did not have adequate arrangements.

“As we reported last week, many CCGs are underperforming and this must improve as they take on responsibility for commissioning services across larger populations.”

Hillier added: “It is vital that local bodies take auditors’ concerns seriously, address them swiftly and ensure meaningful information on performance is made accessible to the public.

“Our report sets out ways central government can help to drive improvements at local level and we urge it to respond positively to our recommendations.” …”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/396-governance-news/40088-public-accounts-committee-calls-for-step-change-in-transparency-in-local-public-bodies

Chilling report on NHS sustainability – it isn’t sustainable

Owl says: anyone who cares about the NHS should read EVERY PAGE of this 58-page report, which is written in clear and accessible language.

Every page signals a death-knell for the NHS sooner rather than later.

It is hard to pick out anything – every page tells a story of (deliberate?) mismanagement, underfunding and chaotic accounting.

For example:

“Key findings

The funding settlement for the NHS long-term plan

8 The long-term funding settlement does not cover key areas of health spending. The 3.4% average uplift in funding applies to the budget for NHS England and not to the Department’s entire budget. The Department’s budget covers other important areas of health spending such as most capital investment for buildings and equipment, prevention initiatives run by Public Health England and local authorities, and funding for doctors’ and nurses’ training. Spending in these areas could affect the NHS’s ability to deliver the priorities of the long-term plan, especially if funding for these areas reduces. The government will consider proposals in these areas as part of its 2019 Spending Review. In addition, without a long-term funding settlement for social care, local NHS bodies are concerned that it will be very difficult to make the NHS sustainable (paragraphs 2.27 and 2.28).

9 There is a risk that the NHS will be unable to use the extra funding optimally because of staff shortages. Difficulties in recruiting NHS staff presents a real risk that some of the extra £20.5 billion funding will either not be used optimally (more expensive agency staff will need to be used to deliver additional services) or will go unspent as even if commissioners have the resources to commission additional activity, health care providers may not have the staff to deliver it (paragraphs 1.19 and 2.29).

10 From what we have seen so far, the NHS long-term plan sets out a prudent approach to achieving the priorities and tests set by the government, but a number of risks remain. The long-term plan describes how the NHS aims to achieve the range of priorities and five financial tests, set by the government in return for the long-term funding settlement, which NHS England believes are stretching but feasible. As with all long-term plans, it provides a helpful indicator of the direction of travel, but significant internal and external risks remain to making the plan happen. These risks include: growing pressures on services; staffing shortages; funding for social care and public health; and the strength of the economy. Our reports have highlighted how previous funding boosts appear to have mostly been spent on dealing with current pressures rather than making the changes that are needed to put the NHS on a sustainable footing (paragraphs 2.24 to 2.26).

Financial and operational performance of NHS bodies

11 In 2017-18, NHS commissioners and trusts reported a combined deficit of £21 million. This was made up of:

The combined deficit of £21 million does not include adjustments needed to report against the Department’s budget for day-to-day resources and administration costs.

12 It is not clear that funding is reaching the right parts of the system.
The overspends by trusts and CCGs were broadly offset by the underspend by NHS England. In 2017-18, NHS England’s underspend included: £962 million from non-recurrent central programme costs, including efficiencies from vacancies;

a £280 million contribution to the risk reserve and £223 million from centrally commissioned services, mostly specialised services (paragraphs 1.4 and 1.8).

13 Most of the combined trust deficit is accounted for by a small number of trusts, while the number of CCGs in deficit increased in 2017-18. The net trust deficit hides wide variation in performance between trusts, with 100 out of 232 trusts in deficit. In 2017-18, 69% of the total trust deficit was accounted for by 10 trusts. NHS Improvement has committed to returning the trust sector to balance in 2020-21, but it is difficult to see how this will be achieved for the worst-performing trusts under current arrangements. Although support provided to trusts in NHS Improvement’s financial special measures programme has been successful in improving the position of some trusts (by £49 million in 2017-18), the financial performance of the 10 worst-performing trusts deteriorated significantly in 2017-18. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of CCGs reporting overspends against their planned position increased from 57 to 75. The NHS long-term plan sets out the national bodies’ aim that no NHS organisation is reporting a deficit by 2023-24 (paragraphs 1.6 and 1.11).

14 There are indications that the underlying financial health in some trusts
is getting worse. In 2017-18, trusts reported that their combined underlying deficit was £4.3 billion, or £1.85 billion if the Provider Sustainability Fund (which replaced the Sustainability and Transformation Fund in 2018-19) is allocated to trusts in future years. There is no historical data on the underlying deficit that takes account of one-off savings, emergency extra cash and other short-term fixes that boost the financial position of the NHS, so it is not clear whether this position is getting better or worse. However, indicators such as cash support and one-off efficiency savings suggest the position has not improved. For example, in 2017-18, the Department gave £3.2 billion in loans to support trusts in difficulty, up from £2.8 billion in 2016-17. In 2017-18, 26% of trusts’ savings were one-off. Trusts will need to make additional savings in 2018-19 to replace these one-off savings (paragraphs 1.13, 1.14, 2.13, 2.17 and 2.18).”

https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NHS-financial-sustainability_.pdf

“Andrew Lansley law that forced hospitals to compete could be axed”

Note: this 10-year plan does not tackle the crisis in social care nor the bigger crises of not having enough staff for either service.

[Andrew Lansley’s 2012 act made local GP groups “customers” to buy services from competing hospitals]

“Implementing the new ten-year plan could involve the reversal of market-based reforms introduced in 2012 by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley.

More than 100 local bodies would be merged under proposals to move away from internal health service competition and make parts of the NHS work more closely together.

The request for new laws by Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, sets the government up for a battle in the Commons. The reversal of the reforms is also likely to prove embarrassing for the Conservatives. Labour has already demanded an apology for a “bureaucratic disaster” that it says wasted billions.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 made local GP groups “customers” to buy services from competing hospitals and other providers. It provoked opposition from health unions who said that it would fragment care. Senior Tories came to regard it as the coalition government’s biggest mistake.

Ministers will seek to present the changes as commonsense tidying up measures requested by the NHS. They hope that this will avoid a divisive political battle, but while opposition to privatisation was a key Labour objection to the act the party is unlikely to back a Conservative NHS reform.

In the ten-year plan Mr Stevens argues that there are too many NHS institutions working autonomously when they need to work together to join up care for patients. While arguing that his plan could be achieved in current structures, he said that changes to the law “would support more rapid progress”.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “We want to foster a culture of ambition and innovation in the way our health sector organises the services it delivers. I am prepared to make the changes necessary for this to become a reality, including changing the law.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “The fact NHS bosses are now proposing significant changes to the Health and Social Care Act confirms what a wasteful, bureaucratic disaster it was in the first place.”

Source: The Times (paywall)

NHS – inequality between regions

“The government must show more urgency in addressing regional health funding imbalances, MPs have warned.

The Public Accounts Committee has also expressed concern about the Department of Health and Social Care’s lack of planning for staffing and medical equipment after Brexit, in a report out today.

The MPs noted there was “significant regional variation” in funding of NHS providers and clinical commissioning groups. DHSC’s 2017-18 annual report and accounts suggest an improvement in finances when taken as a whole but this “masks the underlying deficits at local level”, the PAC report said.

MPs said the department was performing a “balancing act” by offsetting NHS providers’ deficits with a surplus from NHS England’s finances. In 2017-18, 101 of 234 NHS providers were in deficit, although this was mitigated by NHS England’s surplus, the report said. Although, 75 of the 207 CCGs reporting an overspend in the same year.

PAC chair, Meg Hillier, said the number of CCGs overspending was “concerning”.

She added: “The Department of Health and Social Care must show far more urgency in getting to grips with regional funding imbalances and demonstrate it understand the effects these have at the frontline.”

The report was also critical of DHSC’s planning for Brexit, especially around staffing and medical equipment.

It said there is a “lack of a clear plan” for recruiting staff post-Brexit and added: “We are not reassured by the department’s assertion that it has not seen a large exodus of staff since the referendum and that the number of people from the EU working in the NHS has increased.”

Health bodies recently warned that the NHS workforce shortfall could jump from 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030 without effective planning.

Despite the NHS procuring 56% of medical consumables (gloves, dressings, syringes) from, or via, the EU, DHSC is not putting specific contingency measures in place to stockpile this type of equipment, the PAC revealed.

Hillier said: “The department’s lack of clear Brexit planning could threaten the supply of medical equipment. Staff shortages could deepen. The potential consequences for patients are serious.

“These and other uncertainties are amplified by the continued absence of the government’s promised 10-year plan for the NHS, its promised plans for social care, and its promised plans for immigration.” A DHSC source has confirmed to PF the social care green paper and NHS 10-year plan are now likely to be published in the new year, rather than by the end of this year, as originally intended.

Regional variances in staff vacancies could also be overlooked, the PAC noted. The NHS examines vacancy rates at a national level – rather than a local level – which “hides underlying disparities in specific specialisms and local areas and does not allow them to fully understand the impact of staff shortages,” the report said.

The report also expressed concern that the NHS staff pay rise announced earlier this year would not be distributed fairly. By funding pay awards through the National Tariff the PAC is concerned that NHS Providers in more affluent areas will receive “disproportionately higher share of funding” because the tariff accounts for the cost of operating in different geographical locations.

DHSC has been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/12/government-must-address-health-funding-imbalances-say-mps