3 min read

Editor's blog Wednesday 3 March 2010: Loose journalism, the Virgin hokey-cokey, and the late Co-operation and Competition Panel

Hello. Now as I pointed out yesterday, this article in The Guardian is a bit silly (though not as silly as the rip-off of it in the Beast, which confuses PCTs with hospitals. Doh!).

But it got more interesting when one of the key sources, the iridescent John Appleby, chief economist of the Kings Fund used the comments section to tell the journalist, “I did not say to you that 'In London there is a plan to close a third of hospital beds.'

"What I said was that the London Strategic Health Authority had plans to shift around a third of outpatient attendances to other locations - such as polylclinics/GP surgeries. 
Further, I did not say that this is not 'in the open'; in fact I said that as far as I was aware these plans had been published on the London SHA website (and in any case have been reported in the trade press - such as the Health Services Journal).

"Nor did I say that this had attracted 'huge opposition". I have no idea whether it has or has not. 
With regard to Manchester, I expressed an opinion supported by my experience of the NHS and managerial and clinical views. I did not imply that England's 'big cities will bear the brunt of cutbacks.' 
Also did not say or imply that I thought there would be real funding cuts in the NHS. Overall NHS spending for 2010/11 is planed to be 1.6% real increase; for 2021/13 it will be around zero real increase according to December's (2009) Pre Budget report.

“I would also add that a projected overspend of £130m as you report for 100 PCTs (out of 152) is hardly the end of the world. This is a small proportion of the total budget (about 1.3%) and in any case is likely to change substantially by the end of the financial year). 

"Given macroeconomic circumstances the NHS will be entering a period of constrained funding and will need to make productivity improvements to meet higher demands and cost pressures, but this report gives a misleading impression of the situation”.

The journalist, Randeep Ramesh, then offers one of those non-apologising apologies - “sorry to see that you feel misquoted” - in response, and then does not quite disprove anything John has written about his article.

Reviewing the actual data, we find that the deficits are concentrated in London, East of England and North West SHAs.  London and East of England we would have expected. However, more surprising is the picture of a reasonable number in Yorkshire & Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands.

Virgin Health Part II – The Return
You may remember the recent post about Virgin’s re-entry to the UK health market, and indeed they’ve gone and done it.

The coverage in Property Week is interesting: despite the low sale price of £4 million (largely explained by the huge debts of £222 million), Assura – or the 24.9 % of it unsold to Virgin - retains a £300 million property portfolio of doctors’ surgeries and other primary healthcare properties and its pharmacy business, worth, Property Week suggests, in excess of £300 million.

You can read tax-minimiser Richard ‘The Beard’ Branson’s (allegedly) own words about the deal here. They don’t tell you much.

So the Virgin hokey cokey (in, out) has come to a climax - at such a time, we need Mates like that. And no, I'm not going to do the 'that's what you get when you put a prick too near a balloon' one. So don't ask.

I'm going to ask one question, though. How are Virgin going to make money out of this?

The late Co-Operation and Competition Panel
No, don’t worry: Andy “the NHS is our preferred provider” Burnhoid hasn’t given the CCP the back of the shovel (yet).

The CCP have just missed their own deadline of 2 March for their Phase One judgment on the NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney challenge by ACEVO and NHS Partners.

And they won’t return my repeated calls asking why this should be.

Surely someone wouldn't be trying to lean on them?

Elsewhere ...
Elsewhere online, The Independent is on the receiving end of a decent leak from Harry Cayton at the CHRE about the dawdling pace and dithery outcomes of the NMC. No surprise there …