Local government is being “left out in the cold” by the NHS in the rush to develop sustainability and transformation plans, leading councillors have claimed.
At a meeting of the Local Government Association Executive on Thursday, members agreed to write to health secretary Jeremy Hunt expressing their concerns about how the process for developing the plans is working on the ground, HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle reports.
NHS England has ordered all areas to develop an STP by June, setting out how they will make services sustainable. Areas had to agree an appropriate footprint by the end of January. NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said this week there will be 44 STP areas.
Speaking at the meeting in London, Kent County Council leader Paul Carter said: “In Kent and Medway, NHS England is doing everything it can to keep local government out of it.”
He said he had spoken to colleagues elsewhere who had similar experience of being “kept away from the table” and called for the LGA to make sure the health secretary was aware that “what may be honourably intended is being hijacked by the NHS establishment”.
Guidance on the plans said they should be “place based” and as well as addressing the NHS financial challenge should cover “better integration with local authority services… reflecting local agreed health and wellbeing strategies”. Areas have had to select a local NHS or council chief executive to lead on the plan.
A paper presented to the meeting warned handing leadership of the plans to one individual undermined local accountability and sidelined health and wellbeing boards. It also expressed concern that the differing requirements of planning processes for the better care fund and HWBs was creating “duplication, confusion and additional bureaucracy”.
Draft STPs must be submitted by April, before they are published in June.
Izzi Seccombe, leader of Warwickshire County Council and chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “The timescale is very fast… the ability to discuss the shaping of these plans across partnership is quite challenging.
“Each area must identify a chief executive officer [to lead the plan]; we are concerned that this will draw accountability away from local communities and away from health and wellbeing boards.”
She said local government was being left “out in the cold [by the NHS] and not involved in the integration agenda”.
Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA’s Labour group and Newcastle City Council, criticised the approach taken by the NHS in his area where the chosen footprint chosen does not match the area covered by the North East Combined Authority. As part of the North East devolution deal the combined authority is setting up a commission looking at the future of health and social care.
Mr Forbes said: “[The NHS] basically told us what the footprint was rather than seeking to have meaningful engagement. The fact the footprint doesn’t match the combined authority seems to me to be a huge missed opportunity.”
He added: “If the integration question is going to happen outside the health and wellbeing board in a different geography then what on earth are they for?”
Members agreed to write to Mr Hunt expressing their concerns.