3 min read

Editor's blog Wednesday 17 February 2010: Sense on stats, Virgin on the ridiculous, and scoring drugs in Guildford

How do? Bit busy (again), so this is mainly redirects.

Firstly, go and look at a couple of excellent Kings Fund blog posts: the iridescent John Appleby on measuring productivity; and Catherine Foot on cancer survival rates and political debates. Both are excellent, short and clear.

Iridescent John A points out that it is believed that  the 4-hour A&E waiting time target has probably helped skew productivity figure, but also that non-elective acute activity rising by 20% in one year (2007-8) looks "unprecedented, and may reveal problems with the quality of the data in that year". Catherine Foot puts some much-needed factual and rational thought into the debate over UK cancer outcomes.

Where to buy drugs in Guildford
Once upon a time, I would have probably known where to go to buy drugs in Guildford. Nowadays I'm old, and I creak when I bend. So although I probably need them more, I do them almost never (officer).

So thank you to Sally Gainsbury of HSJ - I now know that I should simply nip up to the Royal Surrey should the need arise. They're so entrepreneurial, it can only be a matter of time until they'll be refining some nice Class Cs to boost their income? But it would seem I'll have to pay in Euros.

La Gainsbury  broke a nice story about the Royal Surrey Hospital having been the one who sold UK drugs overseas for a profit - and continued to do so for six months, even after often-duff health minister Mike O'Brien said it might not be the optimal use of NHS resources and DH chief pharmacist Keith Ridge wrote to all hospital chief pharmacists calling it "wholly unacceptable" and "irresponsible" for NHS hospitals to export drugs.

As 'things you shouldn't do' go, this one is a no-brainer. It is a PR disaster - and the Trust's finance director Paul Biddle's refusal to state which drugs had been exported so that we could verify his assertion that none were in short availablility as because it would be "commercially sensitive" compounds the offence. His ROI of £300,000 profit on £4 million traded is not sufficiently impressive to justify the means.

Virgin on the ridiculous
Meanwhile, Richard Branson, everybody's favourite bearded businessman (um, apart from SurUllunn Sugar) has popped back up in policy debate, announcing to the Evening Standard that now is the time for all good expenditure cutters to come to the aid of the Conservative Party.

Sir Rich solemnly stated, “We are going to have to cut our spending and I agree with the 20 leading economists who said we need to start this year. The next government, whatever party that is, must set out a plan to reduce the bulk of the deficit over a Parliament by cutting wasteful spending and must not put off those tough decisions to next year ... We must send a clear signal that we have the issues in hand and a clear strategy for UK plc.”

Now setting aside the dimwitted theory that a country is exactly or even broadly comparable to a PLC, observers will have out two and two together and remembered Barnson's Virgin attemtpts to get a foothold in the primary care market in this country. Like Gordon Brown facing an election, Branson bottled it.

However, news reports in Pulsesuggest that the beard is back, and this time, he might mean business. Assura's business, to be exact.

And Assura look pretty fucked. I'm sorry to blind you with technical finance terms, but that's what you say when you've got £42.2 million income for the past nine months on a £222 million debt.

Now you may already have come across the Branson Pickle website. It suggests that in the original Virgin attempt to get into the NHS market, a number of profoundly dubious tactics were used.

The allegations on Branson Pickle, or closely-associated claims, have been repeated in anumberofotherpublications, without any apparent threat of legal action against the publishers.

UPDATE: This feature from Left Foot Forward, the progressive / left-of-centre blog by Will Straw (Jack's son), points to links indicating that Branson pays some of his tax through offshore trusts. And the issue is also raised here by Saint Vincent of Twickenham, in the context of a potential Virgin Money consortium bid for Northern Rock. Northern Rock is, as elephantine-memoried readers will remember, the bank where before it failed, non-executive director and Gordon Brown's NHS-funding-reporting banker Derek Wanless was chair of the risk and remuneration committees.

So is Branson the man to be lecturing us on our tax policy? Well, you can read about Branson's ancient (1971) conviction for tax evasion and comments about his non-resident status for tax here.

The market option: not always better
Pulse has another excellent story about Clinicenta being rated as a zero-star provider by the Care Quality Commission. The whole CQC report on this is available here.

Private sector cannot be assumed to be better than public sector. And vice versa.