Health minister urges politicians not to oppose STP plans to close services

Politicians must be prepared to support sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) drawn up by local NHS leaders even if they involve cuts to 'cherished' services, a health minister has suggested.

Health minister Phillip Dunne told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party annual conference in Birmingham that many STPs are ‘likely to involve some changes’, including changes to ‘bricks and mortar’.

While such proposals ‘inevitably gives rise to concern that the public that they are losing a cherished facility’, Mr Dunne said, he hoped politicians would recognise the integration and transformation the plans were trying to achieve were a ‘good idea’.

The plans demanded by NHS England are being developed by 44 local footprint collaborations of NHS and local authority organisations and aim to implement the NHS Five Year Forward View. Under the STPs NHS organisations and footprint collaborations will be held to financial control totals to make services more sustainable.

Podcast: What do STPs mean for GPs?

Transformation plans in east London first revealed by GPonline last month include proposals to consolidate practices to serve populations of 10,000 or more. Leaked STPs obtained by campaign group 38 Degrees have included plans to cut the number of GP practices.

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott told the Labour conference last week the party would oppose STPs if they are used purely as vehicles for service cuts

Responding to a question about whether politicians should oppose service closures anticipated in STPs, Mr Dunne told the UK2020 thinktank meeting: ‘People feel very strongly about health provision in their area. They get very attached to tradition and historic ways of doing things. And it's really down to the clinical leaders within the NHS to engage with local politicians, whether MPs or councilors, to explain why it is they are coming up with their recommendations.’

NHS reform

Many STPs, said the minister, ‘are likely to involve some changes’. ‘I'm hoping that what we see from successful STPs is much closer integration between the NHS and social care, taking into account national [clinical] priorities ... and that politicians will recognise that this is a good idea. 

‘Where proposals are to change bricks and mortar, inevitably gives rise to concern that the public that they are losing a cherished facility. I've been in plenty of buildings in the last three months that were constructed over a hundred years ago and I'm not sure they are always necessarily the ideal way to be providing healthcare for the future.’

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