The Week

The Week, 1 April 2022

It’s been a bad week for the NHS. Satisfaction with the Service has fallen to the lowest level since 1997 (36%), according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey (fieldwork was carried out 16 September and 31 October 2021). Satisfaction with GPs has fallen to the lowest level since the BSA survey began in 1983, with just 38% people saying they were satisfied and 42% dissatisfied. Just 15% of respondents are satisfied with social care services.

Interestingly, while 40% of people cite a lack of government spending as a reason for dissatisfaction with the NHS, 39% believe money is wasted — and even more striking, that 40% is the lowest it’s been across the 2016-2021 waves, while the 39% is highest. The doubling of the efficiency target for the NHS announced by the Chancellor last week looks in keeping with the public mood.

On Wednesday, the final report on The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust maternity scandal was published, laying bare the devastating scale of failure. Writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Chair of the Independent Review Donna Ockenden states: “[The Trust] failed to investigate, failed to learn and failed to improve and therefore often failed to safeguard mothers and their babies at one of the most important times in their lives.” Damningly she also says “Even now, early in 2022 there remains concern that NHS maternity services and their trust boards are still failing to adequately address and learn lessons from serious maternity events occurring now.”

The NHS has long been criticised for a culture of cover up rather than learning. The repeated failures, over many years, at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust could not provide a more harrowing example of this.

Over at Education, Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi published his Schools White Paper. Coverage focused on the target for all schools to be part of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) by 2030. Reform has long supported the academy model, and in particular the value of a high-performing MAT— see, for example Education in chains, and Academy chains unlocked. However we’re somewhat baffled by the White Paper’s pledge to allow local authorities to set up MATs. While we’re told there will be limits on local authority involvement in the Trust Board, it still feels a little Local Education Authority. The Department also has a significant challenge on its hands to ensure there are enough “strong” MATs to accommodate the thousands of schools not yet part of one.

This week’s recommended reads...

This blog from ‘policyskeptic’ is well worth a read if you want to understand why the ‘it’s all about more doctors and nurses’ argument is not actually correct when it comes to understanding NHS underperformance. This paragraph sums it up nicely:

      “The NHS might be slightly short of front line staff but it is catastrophically short of support staff like managers and has a long           standing lack of investment in innovation and capital spending. If benchmarks versus comparable health systems are any               guide, the NHS is a spectacular outlier in investment and management.”

Organisations across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors are currently grappling with shaping a post-pandemic workplace model. Anecdotally, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about whether, and how, to get staff back into the office. For anyone doubting the value of office time, this piece by Allison Schrager for Bloomberg Opinion is worth a read. I’m biased — I made the same argument in a piece for the New Statesman almost a year ago to the day — but she’s spot on. Top line: younger workers need older workers to go back to the office. Learning by observation, networking, and creating culture through shared experiences are all essential to success. Just because you’ve already done all that, and are well established in your career, shouldn’t mean you deprive the next generation from benefiting from what you had years ago.

Finally, this week The University of Manchester published an essay collection entitled On productivity, looking at the productivity impacts of everything from health and gender inequalities, to governance and public procurement.