Matt James, Chief Executive of PHIN, gives his thoughts on PHIN's progress and work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I don’t think anybody will really be sad to see the back of 2020. It’s been an enormously challenging year for everyone – I know people who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and we have had some in our own team called back to work on the front line for the NHS, which must have been unfathomably difficult.

However, there is a part of me that always thinks we should always be grateful for what we have in life, and there have been some real positives to 2020. For me, it was spending more time with family, appreciating the efforts of my friends, families and teammates, and seeing the incredible adaptation of our healthcare system in the UK to cope with the pressure of the pandemic. There is a lot from this year that I’m sure we can take forward into 2021.

Our year at PHIN has been busy, with publication of new measures including Never Events, but also as we plan ahead for the next five years up to 2025. Thank you to everyone who responded to our public consultation in October 2020. We received a great response, from over 30 organisations and vast array of different stakeholders. There was a well-balanced set of views that were optimistic and supportive of PHIN and of the proposed strategic priorities we had set out.

The key message we received was a clear desire to complete the CMA’s Order. We’re currently two and a half years after the original deadline the CMA set for publishing information under the order, and over five years since the initial CMA report. This has to be a joint endeavour between PHIN, the hospital providers and consultants. There is still a lot of work to do but we are confident that nobody’s backing away from the obligations of the Order, and there is an openness to funding PHIN and activity within hospitals is at the right level.

The feedback from patient groups, including the Patients Association and Patient Safety Learning Hub – as well as several of the medical associations outlined the importance of making our website response to their needs. There is little purpose in producing this important information, if we don’t make it meaningful for our end users. We have made significant strides with patient participation and consultation in 2020, from workshops and surveys. It’s clearly important that we continue with this, ensuring that our website and offer is co-designed with patients. We had a lot of patient research incorporated into our core products and I’m certain we’ll continue to look for ways to involve patients more directly in steering our work, not least with the addition of our new board member, for which we are now in the final stages of appointing.

Outside of delivering the Order, there were two other significant themes which came through; any new roles PHIN may pick up under the response to the Paterson Inquiry and in the work we are doing under the Acute Data Alignment Program (ADAPt). Our broader role in supporting system alignment and patient safety will clearly be important over the next few years.

Having now heard from stakeholders, our next step is to turn that into action. Some aspects of our five-year strategy are self-evident and clear in their ambition; we have a whole number of performance measures left to publish, the implementation of which will start on 1st Jan 2021. There is a clear desire for a roadmap which sets out delivery of the order over the life of our new strategy, and that is something we have already started.

There is also more we need to understand from our consultation, such as consultant fees and budgeting. Finalisation of the plan will happen in July 2021 in time for member and CMA sign-off as planned. However, given that the Department of Health and Social Care response to the Paterson inquiry is imminent and could have a big impact on sector and PHIN, it would be premature to finalise our strategy ahead of this.

There is plenty to look forward to in 2021. We will do what we have always done, which is get our heads down and get on with the job in hand. We will ensure that we are always talking to the sector and to the world around us and I hope we’ll continue to hear from all our stakeholders so that this remains a joint endeavour.

We hope that you have a Merry Christmas and a joyous and hopeful 2021.

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