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NHS hospitals in debt, Dutch 'trailblaze' telehealth and watchdog says complaints system needs an overhaul

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Thursday 20 March.

The Guardian leads with a strong riposte to the notion that secondary care is being funded at primary care’s expense, as NHS hospitals are set to end the financial year £112 million in the red.

This is the first time since 2006 that hospitals have recorded a deficit - which a Trust Development Authority board paper rebranded as an ‘adverse variance of £171m’ -and experts including the Kings Fund’s chief executive, Professor Chris Ham, have attributed it to hospitals who are unable to hire staff without busting budgets.

Luckily, the health secretary launched a pre-emptive strike last week by denying health care workers a pay rise in line with inflation.

Meanwhile The Independent has news of a ‘trailblazing’ telehealth scheme in The Netherlands that links patients with Parkinson’s disease to specialist doctors and nurses.

According to researchers writing in the BMJ, the ParkinsonNet scheme ‘empowers patients, improves the quality of care, shifts care away from institutions and into the community and lowers healthcare costs’.

What’s more, they say it has saved the health service there up to €20m, and the Indie says applying a similar approach to other disease conditions such as diabetes could bring massive savings to the NHS.

NHS England’s long-term conditions tsar Dr Martin McShane is extremely keen, for one. He told the paper: ‘I think this is a really exciting time.’

‘The problem is we’re almost being out-paced by mobile technology. There are also questions about how we ensure the right governance of these schemes - clear quality standards need to be maintained… But do we want to move to a National Health Service rather than a national hospital service? The answer is yes.’

Finally, the NHS complaints system is ‘hopelessly complicated’ and needs a complete overhaul according to patient watchdog Healthwatch England, the BBC reports this morning.

The watchdog’s survey there are up to 75 different types of organisation involved in the process and it wants the system to be revised so a complaint can be made just once.

Chairwoman, Anna Bradley, said: ‘It’s no wonder the public are left confused and frustrated. With so many organisations involved it’s difficult to know where to start, let alone having the strength and persistence to navigate the system on your own.’

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