It is ‘vital’, said the health secretary, that ‘we stick with’ the plans to implement the NHS’ Five Year Forward View to move the service ‘towards accountable care organisations’ and a more preventative approach.
Mr Hunt’s comments to health leaders at the annual conference of the King’s Fund thinktank on Wednesday came amid mounting criticism of the STP process.
Labour this week demanded that the health secretary publish all 44 STPs in full to reveal local NHS organisations’ plans for cuts and reconfiguration of services. A series of local councils, which are supposed to share responsibility for the STPs with the NHS, have published their STPs against the wishes of the NHS with council leaders in some areas expressing serious concerns over the plans.
Published STPs have revealed a £712m funding shortfall by 2020 in Birmingham and Solihull, £828m in South West London and 876m in North Central London.
GPonline revealed that transformation plans in East London could see GP numbers drop by a third, while practices could be reconfigured into larger organisations.
A survey by the Health Service Journal found almost half of NHS organisations are drawing up plans to cut hospital beds, while a third intend to close A&E departments.
And the BMA in London has called on CCGs to end co-operation with the STP process.
Speaking at last month’s RCGP conference primary care minister David Mowat said STPs could be blocked if GPs did not believe they were right.
But Mr Hunt told health leaders the plans must go ahead in spite of any challenges ahead. ‘The Five Year Forward View is a vitally important plan,’ he said. ‘It's about the move to accountable care organisations, about the move to prevention and not cure. And it has the support of the NHS, and it is vital that we stick with that plan and implement it. And there will be lots of challenges and lots of bumps in the road but the sustainability and transformation plans are the way that we implement the Five Year Forward View and it is vital we stick with them.’
Mr Hunt sought to defend the government’s record on NHS funding, saying it did not get ‘fair credit’ for ‘the priority that we have given for NHS finance’.
NHS spending, he said, had increased 10% in real terms over the last six years including a £4bn increase this year, despite a difficult economic climate.
'Of course it doesn't feel like that on the front line,' he added, 'because at the same time as that increase we have had a very, very significant increase in demand.'