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Councils' place-guiding role should be central to STPs

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The end of summer is marked in the NHS calendar by the Health and Care Innovation Expo. 

Expo started out as a platform for healthcare technology companies but has morphed into an NHS England showcase. A good mix of health service delegates, coupled with patients and local government reps, enjoyed Manchester’s autumn sun.

The prism through which the service is now viewing everything is that of sustainability and transformation plans (STPs). While we may be in different places, we are all in ‘doing’ mode. One risk perhaps is that local STP plans become a ‘thing’. Not a process by which we strategically map out the future of local health and care provision, but an outcome in itself. Lose the vision and you end up changing for a plan, not planning for a change.

There was cause for optimism. Several clinical commissioning groups told me the process was pushing them to better understand how their work brought benefits to their wider communities. In a system which measures clinical activity clinically, trying to understand and record the supposed intangibles of how the NHS drives local prosperity is not only not easy but also not rewarded. Changing this requires a mixture of leadership, data and partnerships.

On the first point, let’s hope Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie’s focus on the links between health and employment, housing and social exclusion rub off on the other arm’s-length bodies and that Sir Howard Bernstein’s work in this area continues after his retirement from Manchester City Council.

How we harness data to drive better solutions is one thing Expo excels at – the more disruptive the better please.

The last point is probably the most important. At the heart of STPs is partnership-working, and not just within health and social care. Understanding all the drivers of population health and wellbeing will only become apparent by coalescing with others around a ‘place’. Local government’s guiding role in this is critical.

Expo is a good means of testing the service’s mood in the run up to Christmas. For now, a blend of deadlines, dictats and dialogue are driving local solutions. But as we all know, winter – and the sharing of plans – is coming.


Michael Wood is NHS Local Growth Advisor at the NHS Confederation.

Follow him at @NHSLocalGrowth


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