Struggling NHS patient services are under threat from stealth reforms that could see more closures and relocations of local hospitals and A&E departments, local councils have revealed.
The secret plans for improved integration of hospital and community-based services are being driven by NHS England, however Unite, which has dubbed the plans “Slash, Trash and Privatise” said they are a guise for delivering a raft of further cuts as the health service struggles to implement £20bn of ‘efficiency’ savings.
Managers from health care partnerships from 44 regions across England submitted draft Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) on October 21, most of which have not been released to the public following orders from NHS England.
However three partnerships have broken ranks and published their draft STPs. South west London’s STP showed there are plans to cut the number of hospitals providing acute services from five to four. Plans to close acute services in two hospitals were also modelled.
In Birmingham, STP proposals have been put forward to carry out more home births to reduce pressure on hospitals, while in North London plans to “consolidate services,” were described in the STP as being potentially “challenging to implement and controversial with the public”.
A limited public consultation process on the STPs is due to start in January 2017, with implementation expected later next year.
“What we have here is another attempt to reorganise the NHS by stealth in the name of improved services,” said Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter. “But we suspect, given the enormous financial crisis facing the NHS, that STPs are a device to further cut services, erode patient care, and introduce local pay and employment conditions. The spectre of further privatisation also lurks in the background.”
“This is a wake-up call for local councils, politicians and the public to make to their voice heard – I doubt whether one person in a thousand knows what a STP is. It appears that the lessons of Andrew Lansley’s botched reforms have not been learnt. What the NHS needs is not more secretive ‘reforms’, but a massive injection of ‘new’ money when chancellor Philip Hammond ‘resets’ the economy in his autumn statement on November 23.”
A number of partnerships, which include representatives from NHS trusts, local authorities, hospitals and clinical commissioning groups, have also spoken out against the secrecy surrounding the STPs.
The Sutton and South London Partnership was one of those to publish its STP, with leader Ruth Dombey raising concerns about NHS England’s attempts to keep the process away from public view.
She said, “We are concerned that the NHS centrally has not allowed the publication of our STP and that this is raising worries about its content and the process around its development. I am therefore publishing the South West London STP to increase transparency and support the development of robust plans that will deliver better services and outcomes across our area.”
STP plans for North London and Birmingham and Solihull have also been published against the wishes of NHS England. Both plans highlighted the massive funding shortfalls facing services.
Camden Council leader, Sarah Hayward said, “I have serious reservations about the STP process so far. There has been no political oversight, and minimal public and patient engagement. At present, there is a lack of appropriate focus on adult social care. That lack of public, patient and political involvement is why I am publishing this document on our website.”
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter called on other councils to follow suit.
“We need more openness about STPs as they appear, under the mantle of improved services, to mask a culture of cuts,” she noted.
Unite will be writing to all councils to ask them to publish the STPs for their respective areas as a matter of priority and not sign them off without full consultation with staff, the trade unions and the public.”