King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham has written to the health secretary stating that sustainability and transformation plans “offer an important opportunity to improve health and care services”, and that there was no ”concerted effort to keep the plans secret”.

The think tank published a report about STPs on Monday that was covered prominently in the national media, with reports referring to “secret plans” and the prospect of closure of hospital services.

Professor Ham wrote a letter yesterday “in response to some of the media coverage”, to Jeremy Hunt, health spokesmen for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and the Commons health committee chair.

He said: “Our report identifies major challenges with the way that STPs have been developed so far but concludes that the plans offer an important opportunity to improve health and care services.

“Some of the media coverage has focused on ‘secrecy’ surrounding the plans. The report concludes that the involvement of patients and the public in the STP process has so far been minimal. However, it does not suggest that there has been a concerted effort to keep the plans secret as some of the coverage suggests.”

Professor Ham said “portraying STPs as ‘secret plans’ risks distracting attention from the crucial decisions about the future of health and care services the process is designed to facilitate”.

HSJ wrote in the summer, after hearing concerns from some STP leaders that they were being discouraged from publishing plans by national agencies, that public concern about them was “being exacerbated by unnecessary secrecy, encouraged by the centre and irritating to most STP leaders”.

The article said: “Some STPs are taking forward reconfiguration, but often these are well trailed proposals, and the current silence is undermining months or years of previous discussions with the public. There are undoubtedly some points of controversy… but delay and obfuscation is doing little to help.”

Following the submission of “full” draft STPs on 21 October, we referred to the fact STPs had been told not to publish plans immediately after submission, and had stated they were awaiting national approval. 

NHS England and NHS Improvement told NHS chief executives at the beginning of November they should publish their STPs when they were ready to, excluding full financial and activity returns. However, some areas have continued to state that they were awaiting national approval.