• National guidance says “most” areas should publish their STP by the end of the year
  • However, “every area will be working to a different timeframe”

“Most areas” should publish a version of their sustainability and transformation plan by the end of the year, according to national guidance due to be published today.

NHS England, jointly with the other national arm’s length bodies, is publishing a document on “engaging local people” in STPs. This follows prominent media coverage in recent weeks of campaigners’ concerns about secrecy surrounding STPs, and the potential for cuts to services.

The new guidance published today says: “Local proposals for health and care transformation are not expected to have gone through formal local NHS or other organisations’ board approval and/or formal public engagement or consultation at this early stage…

“We expect that most areas will take a version of their STP to their organisation’s public board meeting for discussion between late October and the end of the year.

“We would also expect that most areas will publish their plans for wider engagement during this period, building on the engagement they have already done to shape thinking.

“Every area will be working to a different timeframe, based on its own circumstances and how well progressed its plan is.”

National officials’ expectations about whether and when STPs will be published have previously been unclear. Many STP leads and local NHS chief executives have told HSJ that NHS England has discouraged them from publishing or sharing their drafts, though a small number of areas have published versions of their STP.

The 44 STP areas are required to make their next “full” submission to national bodies by 21 October. NHS England and NHS Improvement have not set out an STP approval process, including what will happen where any of the October plans are not deemed good enough.

They said in July’s “NHS reset” document that “final STP delivery plans, to be submitted in October by each footprint” would “form the starting point” for two year operational plans and contracts, which are expected to be signed off by the end of December. Detailed planning guidance for the process is due to be published next week.

Today’s national document summarises advice and legal requirements on engagement and consultation and gives some examples. It says: “We cannot develop care coordinated and centred around the needs of patients and users without understanding what communities want and without our partners in local government.”

It also says: “All footprints should be engaging with local people via Healthwatch and other patient and public groups, to discuss and shape their proposals… Although this type of involvement does not require full plans to be published at this early stage while they are still in development, sufficient information should be provided to identify stakeholders to enable them to be involved in a meaningful way.”

Five Year Forward View project director Jo Lenaghan said of STPs in a statement: “There is a huge prize to be had that includes better joined up care, services closer to home and improved outcomes for older people. But to achieve those benefits communities will have to confront choices about where to put modestly growing resources.”

The new guidance comes after a debate in the Commons yesterday, organised by Labour MPs. Several MPs raised concerns about STPs and the process.

HSJ’s The Commissioner weekly email briefing said last month that “concern [about STPs] is being exacerbated by unnecessary secrecy” and that: “Space needs to be found in the tight planning timetable for STPs to be published, and to be signed off by NHS boards and health and wellbeing boards.”

  • HSJ published a story last week based on a panel session on STPs at the Health and Care Innovation Expo. The piece was removed because a member of the panel advised us quickly after publication that comments on the panel, which the piece were based on, were incorrect. HSJ will publish a video of the panel session in coming days.