• Council considers referring Essex STP plans to health and social care secretary
  • Intervention could put £118m of funding at risk
  • NHS bosses said move was “disappointing and frustrating so late in proceedings”

A major reconfiguration of services faces referral to the health and social care secretary by a local council, putting £118m of transformation funding at risk.

Southend Council will decide next month if it will refer the Mid and South Essex sustainability and transformation partnership’s reconfiguration plans to Matt Hancock, it has emerged.

The move means the £118m of central funding allocated for the STP, which has set out plans to reconfigure services across three acute trusts due to merge in April, is on hold until the matter is resolved.

If the plans are referred to the health and social care secretary, they will be scrutinised by the Department of Health and Social Care’s independent reconfiguration panel.

Southend councillor Bernard Ascott, who is chairman of the joint health oversight and scrutiny for the three Essex councils involved in the STP, told HSJ this week that councillors on Southend’s people scrutiny committee would consider the issue at the next meeting on 9 October.

If the committee does recommend referring the STP, or certain aspects of the proposals, to Mr Hancock, the move would require full council approval at its October meeting.

Cllr Ascott said there could be a scenario where only certain aspects of the plans are referred to the health and social care secretary, citing the proposals for stroke services and for more secondary transfers between the three hospitals in the STP.

In comments reported by local newspaper The Echo, Cllr Arscott added: “Such a delay would have an impact on the viability of the proposals going forward.

“They are reliant on having that £118m. There have been assurances [it] will be ringfenced, but there is a possibility we could lose the money that has been earmarked.”

Southend University Hospital Foundation Trust chairman Alan Tobias said the council’s decision was “disappointing”, especially at “this late stage despite us having regular dialogue”.

He added in a statement: “Until we know the outcome of that decision we cannot fully progress our plans to gain access to the £118m of investment which is frustrating.”

The committee said it was concerned by the lack of detail about how the new plans would work and be staffed. The proposals involve Southend, Basildon and Thurrock Hospitals FT and Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust, which are set to merge in April.

The merger is not under threat as part of this process, which only concerns the clinical reconfiguration of the trusts’ services, which was given the green light by local NHS commissioners in July.

Basildon is set to be the biggest winner of the acute trusts in terms of service acquisition. It would be designated the specialist emergency hospital and also undertake other major specialist activity, such as stroke and vascular services under the plans.

Much of the controversy has centred on new proposals for emergency services, and proposals to increase the number of secondary transfer arrangements for stroke patients between the different sites.

The strategy would require recurrent investment of £30m a year by 2020-21 to fund increased investment in its workforce, estate and digital systems, the Mid and South Essex STP Decision Making Business Case said.

Mr Tobias added in a statement: “We have committed that we will continue to explain and update as our plans progress. This is right and proper. But delays such as this not only use up scarce public money, but more importantly impact on patient care.

“We recognise that changes to NHS services can cause concerns, even when changes are driven by clinicians to improve care for our local residents. That’s why we made sure our plans were open to a great deal of public scrutiny… Local councillors also scrutinised and challenged our plans during this time.”