Fears of NHS cuts in Suffolk and north Essex shake-up
PUBLISHED: 11:21 15 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:12 16 November 2016
Radical plans to redesign health and social care in Suffolk and North East Essex amid a £350million financial shortfall are to be made public.
The region’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) – one of 44 across the country – is to be released for the first time this week.
It will cover the North East Essex, Ipswich and East Suffolk, and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) areas. The Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG comes under the Norfolk STP.
Sarah Adams, Labour’s health spokesman at Suffolk County Council, who has been involved in the process, warned the STP would mean “further cuts and major changes to health and social care delivery”.
She said specific details of the STP, which is led by Nick Hulme – the chief executive of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals – were under order to remain confidential. However leaked STPs from other regions include closures to hospitals, A&E units or maternity units.
A spokesman for the STP said its focus was on collaborative working rather than cuts. The spokesman acknowledged, however, that a £362m financial overspend had been identified over the next five years in Suffolk and North East Essex.
Mrs Adams said she was “deeply concerned” about the process.
“The shambolic way in which these plans have been put together and communicated with local government and other bodies is entirely typical of the Government’s mistreatment of our NHS,” she added. “This is an exceedingly short timeframe to so fundamentally change the way services are delivered without the full involvement of all frontline services and users.”
Although the deadline for submitting STPs was last month, the Suffolk and North East Essex team are still recruiting a committee chairman.
Nationally, the scheme was criticised yesterday after the King’s Fund, a health think-tank, published a report which said STPs “have been developed at significant speed and without the meaningful involvement of frontline staff or the patients they serve”.
NHS England told health leaders not to reveal the plans to the public or media until they are finalised and approved by their own officials, according to the report.
Jeff Keighley, Eastern regional organiser for health union UNISON, said STP leaders should have consulted “at the earliest possible opportunity”, and claims none of his members had been involved in the process so far.
Although the union is not against “sustainable transformation”, Mr Keighley says he is concerned the proposals will instead be about “rationalising” the health service, which could mean job losses.
Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, who also works as a doctor, said the consultations “should not be presented as a fait accompli” and stressed the importance of engaging with the public and other organisations “from an early stage in the process”.
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, which has been engaged in the process, said collaboration between health and social care, was “long overdue”.
“We feel strongly that patients, carers and the public must be at the very heart of the development of any new transformation plans,” he added.
“Such opportunities should be presented at the right time, by the right people and when the public’s views can be as influential and as meaningful as possible.”
Mr Hulme said the STP represented a change in public services to help people live “healthier, happier lives” and be better supported to look after their own wellbeing.
“Throughout North East Essex and Suffolk, 26 health and care organisations and GP representatives have come together and have been building on what people have told us already about simplifying services and bringing services as close to home as possible,” he added.
“The ambitious part of our plans are to replace competition with collaboration, look at improving care and quality at a broader scale, boosting the workforce and doing all of this quickly. If we can work together to do things like raising education levels and improving information to support people to look after themselves that will set families across North East Essex and Suffolk on the road to a better future.”
NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh defended the STPs.
He said: “Advances in medicine also mean it is now possible to treat people at home who would previously have needed a trip to hospital.
“It also means those with the most serious illness need to be treated in centres where specialist help is available around the clock.
“So, this is not a moment to sit on our hands. There are straightforward and frankly overdue things we can do to improve care.
“We are talking about steady incremental improvement, not a big bang. If we don’t, the problems will only get worse.”