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Cowper's Cut update: Ooops! NHSE did it again. NHS tariff withdrawn weeks before the new financial year

Cowper's Cut update: Ooops! NHSE did it again. NHS tariff withdrawn weeks before the new financial year

NHS England has gone Full Britney.

To borrow from health policy guru La Spears' comeback hit, everybody's favourite commissioning board is singing 'Ooops, I Did It Again'.

The above message, sent to directors of finance, reveals that in a booming echo of 2006, the tariff is being withdrawn: this time, not due to errors - but to create alignment with the Government's NHS Electoral Recovery Plan. (UPDATE: this was spotted and covered by Health Service Journal last week, and I missed it.)

The objections threshold for the initially proposed 2022-3 national payment tariff for the NHS in England (which was raised after the last objection) was not reached in feedback.

However, as the text says, "following careful analysis of this (tariff consultation) feedback, and the recent publication of the elective recovery plan, we have decided to make some changes to the proposals to ensure that the paymemnt system is fully aligned to the elective recovery strategy. These changes primarily relate to the design of the variable element of the aligned payment and the variable incentive payment.

"We will therefore be reconsulting on the proposals for the 2022-23 tariff. A revised consultation notice will be published in the coming days, and there will then be a 28-day consultation period.

"It remains our intention for the 2022-23 tariff to come in to effect on 1 April 2022, but this will depend on the outcome of the reconsultation".

So in effect, the NHS planning function in England isn't going to be able to do proper financial planning for the start of the new financial year.

It's just like deja vu all over again
For those who remember the end of the NHS's Nigel Crisp era in 2006, the sense is that (to paraphrase Joseph Anthony Wittreich in 'Feminist Milton') while history may not repeat itself, it most certainly rhymes.

In March 2006, this front cover of the British Journal of Healthcare Management, which I edited, asked a few big questions about the NHS leadership, and the overspend of a billion pounds (in the days of 6% real-terms year-on-year cash growth).

One of them was "In an NHS of Payment By Results, how can the tariff for the next financial year be withdrawn five weeks out because of ‘errors’?"

You may recall that Lord Crisp did not remain in the job for long after this attracted attention.

This isn't going to be comparably defenestrative nor precipitative of our current NHS Pope, Amanda Pritchard.

However, it certainly isn't helpful to those working in the NHS financial and planning system.

Perhaps most concerningly, it indicates a major failure of co-ordination between the Department For Health But Social Care and NHS England as regards the timing of the announcement of the Electoral Recovery Plan.

A competent Government should not be making unforced errors of this kind.