Philip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt tell Theresa May of secret plans to close rural chemists despite assurances to MPs (Telegraph: 26 March 2017)

Ministers are planning to allow hundreds of rural chemists to close across the country despite repeated assurances to MPs this would not happen, The Telegraph can disclose.

In private letters to Theresa May, last August Philip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt warned that pharmacies would have to close because of the cut in a subsidy worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the hard-pressed pharmacies.

The Cabinet ministers’ warnings appear to be at odds with ministers’ repeated public claims in Parliament and in official documents that no closures are likely.

They also appear to confirm that Mrs May is concerned about the plans and had to seek reassurances from Mr Hammond, the Chancellor, and Mr Hunt, the Health secretary.

Campaigners said the letters amounted to a "smoking gun" which laid bare the Government's indifference to saving rural pharmacies.

The concerns stems from a Government decision to cut a subsidy for pharmacies in rural and deprived areas by £208million in the 2017/18.

The cut has led to concerns that pharmacies in rural areas will close forcing the elderly to have to travel further for medicines.

According to letters disclosed in a High Court challenge to the plans, and seen by The Telegraph, Mr Hammond and Mr Hunt warned that the cut will result in the closure of pharmacies.

Mr Hunt told Mrs May on August 2 the cut would mean that “500-900 pharmacies will close”, in a letter that was copied to Mr more


Half of £2bn boost for NHS 'spent outside health service' (The Guardian: 26 March 2017)

chiefs spent about half of the £2bn of extra cash allocated in George Osborne’s pre-2015 election autumn statement on buying care from private and other non-NHS providers, an analysis has shown.

The Health Foundation research for the Financial Times showed £901m was spent on buying services from outside the health service in 2015/16 for care provided free at the point of use for NHS patients. It compared with £800m spent on purchasing the same kind of care from NHS trusts.

In his 2014 autumn statement, the former chancellor described the money for NHS England as a “down-payment on the NHS’s own plan” and said it would go towards frontline services.

The report also found that £1 in every £8 of local commissioners’ budgets in England is now spent on care provided by non-NHS organisations. The Health Foundation said the figures showed NHS providers have not had the capacity to deal with rising demand.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Rising demand for emergency care meant that NHS providers haven’t had the capacity to deliver planned care and patients had to be diverted outside the NHS. NHS hospitals were left squeezed by sharply rising drug and staff costs with little additional funding. The result was big deficits that had to be covered by raids on investment more


Government spent £17.6m on consultants hired to draw up NHS cutbacks (The Independent: 21 March 2017)

Firms including KPMG, McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have made millions of pounds from plans that could lead to the closure or downgrade of NHS hospitals.

Health bosses have spent at least £17.6m on management consultants to draw up the strategies, which earmark cuts to departments and some A&Es.

Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) have been created in 44 regions in a bid to revolutionise services while saving money in the face of an expected £900m NHS deficit this year.

The Press Association used the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to ask clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) how much has been spent on management consultants to formulate the plans.

The figures show £17,674,998 has been spent so far, though the final bill is likely to be far more


Money earmarked for mental health diverted to balance NHS books (The Guardian: 16 March 2017)

Ministers have been accused of breaking their promises on mental health after £800m earmarked to improve services was diverted to shore up hospitals’ finances.

A leading mental health charity and the Labour party said redirecting the money would hit patient care and hinder the drive, backed by Theresa May, to improve care for people with serious mental health problems.

“It would be incredibly worrying if mental health investment was being sacrificed so that [NHS bodies] can balance their books,” said Mind chief executive Paul Farmer, who chaired the NHS taskforce on mental health that last year recommended sweeping changes, including to funding.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, last year said the money was “funding that would have been available from CCGs for mental health services, community health services, primary care and other things”. It was being held as a “contingency reserve” in case hospital trusts recorded huge deficits this year comparable to the overspend of £2.45bn they made in 2015-16, he said.

In his letter, Baumann confirms that NHS England now intends to use the “full amount” of the contingency fund to offset overspends by NHS acute hospital trusts in more


NHS delays leave thousands facing long wait for wheelchairs (The Guardian: 21 March 2017)

One in five children who need a wheelchair are being forced to wait beyond the supposed maximum 18 weeks, as are almost one in six adults. Campaigners say the figures reveal a “postcode lottery” in provision across England.

Some 7,200 people who received a wheelchair between October and December had waited at least 19 weeks, despite the NHS Constitution guaranteeing access to one within 18 weeks.

NHS England does not record how long over the 18-week threshold patients have waited for a wheelchair. But the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK says it knows of young adults who within the past year had waited more than eight months.

The NHS England figures obtained by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) show that those with the greatest need for the equipment can face the longest waits.

Nic Bungay, director of campaigns at Muscular Dystrophy UK, told HSJ that long waits for a wheelchair appropriate for their needs were stopping young people “going out independently … and accessing university, work and friends”.

An estimated one in 50 Britons is believed to use a wheelchair to go to work or school, get to the shops, look after their children or undertake other tasks. The Wheelchair Alliance, led by Paralympic champion Lady Grey-Thompson, claims “great variation in ability to access assessment and obtain service provision”, as well as delays in receiving equipment and having it repaired, were affecting too many people.

The campaign group is urging the NHS to ensure equality of access for everyone who needs a wheelchair, which “would prevent confusion and disadvantage when education needs mean a user moving to another area or changing their GP [and put] an end arbitrary age discrimination. This is especially the case where very young children may or may not be provided with chairs depending solely on where they live.” more


Dying patients waiting hours for pain relief in NHS funding shortfall (The Guardian: 14 March 2017)

Dying patients are waiting up to eight hours to receive pain relief because of cuts to district nursing services during the NHS’s unprecedented budget squeeze, a new report has revealed.

Severe financial pressures on the NHS are leading to longer waits for treatment and a short-sighted and growing rationing of care that is storing up problems for the future, according to a study by the King’s Fund health thinktank. 

The report quotes one unnamed manager of a hospice saying: “The district nurses working at night are not able to give effective response times; you can wait up to eight hours … for patients experiencing pain and discomfort in the last two to three days of their life, it has a massive impact. It’s a frightening time for patients.”

The King’s Fund research has found that district nursing and sexual health services are among the areas of care most affected by six years of the NHS in England receiving annual budget increases of 1.2%, far less than its historic average of 3.7% rises.

It highlights how the diminishing number of district nurses are struggling to give patients prompt high-quality care because they are increasingly overworked.

The need to balance budgets and the smaller numbers of district nurses are prompting some NHS bodies to restrict their eligibility criteria for patients seeking help, refusing it for those with serious mobility problems unless they are completely housebound.

“We heard some examples of providers attempting to limit access. This was mainly through tightening referral criteria, particularly in relation to patients being ‘housebound’. Increasingly, if patients are able to visit their general practice (even if doing so is challenging), they will not be eligible to receive care from district nurses,” the report more


Virgin Care starts legal proceedings against NHS (HSJ: 13 March 2017)

A private provider has launched legal proceedings against eight NHS commissioners after losing a bid for a £82m children’s community services contract.

Virgin Care Services Limited issued court proceedings in the High Court against NHS England, Surrey County Council and the county’s six clinical commissioning groups one month after commissioners awarded the three year contract to Surrey Healthy Children and Families Services Limited Liability Partnership.

The winning bidder is an alliance between Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust and two social enterprises, CSH Surrey and First Community Health.

A spokesman for Virgin Care Services told HSJ that concerns about “serious flaws in the procurement process” prompted the company to launch proceedings.

“Never before have we been so concerned with the whole process that we have needed to make a challenge of this nature,” the spokesman more


Circle contract win means trust 'risks going in special measures' (HSJ: 14 March 2017)

A struggling NHS trust could lose up to £6.6m of income and risk being put into financial special measures after losing a £73m contract, a report has found.

Lewisham and Greenwich Trust stands to lose up to £6.6m of revenue over five years unless Circle Health, the winner of a musculoskeletal contract for Greenwich, contracts it to deliver community based services and “other orthopaedic activity”, the PwC report said.

Loss of activity would make Queen Elizabeth Hospital ‘the smallest site delivering both trauma and orthopaedic services in the country’

The report also highlighted possible risks to the safety of care if Circle subcontracts MSK services currently provided by Lewisham and Greenwich to another provider.

The London trust already has a forecast deficit of £34.6m for 2016-17, which puts the trust’s finances £14.4m behind plan, the PwC study said.

The loss of £1.6m of income in the first year of the three year contract could “add additional financial pressures to the trust”, and lead to “potential intervention, for example being placed into the financial special measure regime”, the report more

NHS finances facing 'nasty hangover' after bid to avert winter crisis
 (The Guardian: 2 March 2017)

The NHS’s already precarious finances are facing a “nasty hangover” after hospitals cancelled tens of thousands of operations recently in a bid to avert a full-blown winter crisis, experts have said.

Handing large numbers of operations over to private providers and hiring extra staff to cope with extra demand during December and January has also dealt a big blow to NHS trusts’ efforts to balance their books, the King’s Fund said.

The backlog of patients needing non-urgent surgery as a result of the widespread postponement of procedures this winter will also force patients to wait even longer for their operation, Richard Murray, its director of policy, said.

“Increasing spending on agency staff, outsourcing work to the private sector and suspending planned treatment may have helped to relieve pressure in the short term but are likely to result in a nasty hangover as hospital finances take a hit and waiting times increase further,” said Murray.

The service’s finances are deteriorating so sharply there is a real risk the Department of Health could bust its budget for 2016-17, according to the thinktank’s new analysis of NHS performance.

Its latest quarterly monitoring report on how the NHS in England is faring predicts that it is facing several more years of finding it impossible to live within its budget, despite government orders to do so. Hospital trusts ran up a deficit of £2.45bn last year and are on course to overspend by over £1bn again this more
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