This glimpse into the future of Academy education from the Liverpool Echo will horrify any journalist

It might look like an office block, but it’s actually an Academy, and one which is giving journalists a glimpse of what an Academy-only future might be like for journalists

For Government, it’s all about devolution at the moment. Even if you put to one side George Osborne’s obsessive Northern Powerhouse proposal, the idea of devolution runs through almost every government department.

The problem, however, is that it appears to be devolution regardless of what the public thinks. At the turn of the decade, there was precious little support for the idea of city or metro mayors, even with the promise of new powers and spending for regions, when it was put to public votes.

The Government’s solution has been to push ahead with devolution anyway – by removing the need for it to have public support. 

And last week came news of perhaps the greatest devolution of all – making all schools become academies. It’s an idea which the trade unions already hate, and the far-left Labour Party of 2016 is sure to fight tooth and nail against (although it’s fair to assume the most effective opposition will come from the select committees and the House of Lords).

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Why PR firms should be banned from the NHS

jeremy huntHealth secretary Jeremy Hunt last week declared that, as far as the NHS is concerned, transparency is best disinfectant. That should be music to most journalists’ ears.

Over the last decade, there has been an incredible erosion of transparency in the NHS. As hospitals became foundation trusts, they (for a while), had the right to hold their board meetings in private.

Ambulance trusts have become regional, rather than county, wide and therefore the level of information presented at board meetings is more sparse. Strategic Health Authorities, which the Government finally scrapped in April, seemed to exist solely to take the credit for things which worked and to fog over the things which didn’t. For most of the last year, one SHA covered the whole of the North – decisions about Manchester being taken in Tyneside and vice versa. For journalists, it’s great to see the back of SHAs, although a shame that they aren’t around to take their share of the blame for the horrific incidents uncovered by the Keogh Review.

There there are the Clinical Commissioning Groups, which have replaced Primary Care Trusts. Founded on the best of intentions – to give GPs control over spending – the level of transparency remains to be seen.

So all in all, if Jeremy Hunt is serious about transparency improving the NHS, it’s a good thing. He can start by getting the Government to knock its plan to restrict access to FOI on the head. With the constant political meddling and restructuring the NHS is subject to, the one constant is FOI from an access to information point of view.

When he’s done that, he should suggest that PR firms have no place in the NHS.

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NHS Jargon part 3: How not to reassure patients when you’re being investigated for lots of deaths

Last week, the report into what went wrong at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, made for very bleak reading. It also emerged that five more hospitals were to be investigated amid concerns about a high number of deaths on their wards.

The hospitals now under investigation are ones which have reported a high ‘summary hospital-level mortality indicator’,  a government measure on hospital deaths. Of course, a high level doesn’t necessarily mean a hospital is doing something wrong – the local population could generally have poorer health than in a more affluent area, for example.

Now, given the level of publicity such an announcement is likely to make, you’d think the hospitals involved would be keen to put minds at ease with an easy-to-understand, reassuring message. You’d think. And in fairness, some were very, very straightforward. East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, for example managed to put across a series of comments from senior health figures in the area in a way which was easy to take in – despite the odd reference to ‘outcomes for patients.’

Not so at Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester, which for several years had been nicknamed Shameside by patients fed up with the service they got.

Step forward chief executive Christine Green, with this bingo-card busting string of NHS jargon posted on the hospital’s website to reassure visitors:

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Caught on Camera: Grim Reaper spotted in hospital

The Grim Reaper....In a hospital

Blink and you’ll miss it – but here’s the Grim Reaper caught on camera at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. Sort of.

It’s a screengrab from the video below, which was recorded by staff at the hospital to try and encourage people to wash their hands more frequently when in hospital. I might be being sniffy (and not just because I have a cold) here, but I never quite understand why hospitals have to keep reminding their staff about washing their hands. Newsrooms don’t have signs (or videos) saying ‘reporter, pick up your pen,’ do they?

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FOI: Has another newspaper uncovered a health-related manslaughter?

The other week, I blogged about a remarkably successful FOI request by the Brighton Argus which had revealed a previously unreported investigation into an alleged manslaughter at a hospital.

Neither the police nor the hospital trust had felt the need to make the investigation known – or highlight the fact that three members of staff have been arrested and bailed pending further investgiations into the death of the 77-year-old.

Now, the Warrington Guardian is reporting that an FOI it submitted to local health authorities has uncovered some interesting findings:

A MURDER and a child death were some of the serious incidents reported by health trusts in Warrington earlier this year.

Between April and June, 18 were logged by Warrington and Halton hospitals and The 5 Boroughs Partnership.

They were subsequently registered with health authority the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) and NHS Warrington.

On June 19, 5 Boroughs, the mental health trust that covers Warrington, Halton, Knowsley, St Helens and Wigan, announced that one of its outpatients had committed a murder.

It also reported on May 25 that a community patient, who was receiving treatment, had died unexpectedly.

On April 21, Warrington and Halton hospitals made NPSA aware of the child death.

The list was revealed following a Freedom of Information request lodged by the Warrington Guardian.


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NHS Secrecy: GP consortia to be told to meet in public

Some more good news on the NHS front: After making clear that Foundation Hospital Trusts must hold their board meetings in public, GP consortia have been told they will have to do the same as well.

When the Department of Health announced its response to a review of planned reforms to the NHS, it made very clear in press briefing notes that it intended to make Foundation Hospital Trusts hold their board meetings in public. At present, Foundation Hospital Trusts don’t have to meet in public – one of the ‘freedoms’ they were given under Labour. This change was important because the government wants to give more hospitals foundation trust status.

The DoH has now confirmed it will make GP consortia meet in public too. GP consortia are the organisations which will replace Primary Care Trusts. They will be the real power in the local NHS because they will hold the purse strings. Up until now, it has been unclear whether these consortia would be obliged to meet in public in the way PCTs do.

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NHS secrecy breakthrough: You shall go to Foundation Trust board meetings

I should have picked up on this sooner, but I’ve been rather distracted over the last week by the birth of my baby daughter.

Anyway, about three weeks ago I blogged on the potential threats to information access caused by the NHS reforms. The threats are three-fold:

1. The abolition of Primary Care Trusts – the bodies which decide how NHS money is spent locally – in favour of GP consortia. PCTs currently meet in public to take decisions, and there is no commitment that consortia will do the same. How, then, are those holding the purse strings to be held accountable?

2. The push for more Foundation Hospital Trusts: These are hospital trusts which have some freedoms from government rules and regulations. Sadly, one of those freedoms has, up until now, been the right to meet in private, rather than in public.

3. The closure of strategic health authorities: Not, in my opinion, necessarily a bad thing but it does remove one more way into NHS information as all PCTs and hospital trusts report to the SHA. In future, this sort of monitoring will be done by an organisation called Monitor. The level of monitoring, and how accountable it will be, remains unclear.

But Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, has delivered some good news on point 2, concerning founation hospital trusts. He is inserting a section into his Health and Social Care bill which will force  Foundation Trusts to hold their board meetings in public.

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