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Former health secretary to chair council-led STP amid deficit fears

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  • Patricia Hewitt to chair of Norfolk STP amid concerns about its progress
  • Systems leaders want Ms Hewitt to “bang heads together”, says senior source
  • STP interim chair John Fry welcomes the appointment

A former health secretary has been brought in to chair Norfolk and Waveney sustainability and transformation partnership, one of the few in the country with a local government lead.

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Patricia Hewitt has been appointed independent chair of the STP led by Norfolk CC managing director Wendy Thomson who will continue as STP lead and executive group chair.

Ms Hewitt was Labour’s health secretary under Tony Blair between 2005 and 2007.

Speaking to LGC, Ms Thomson said: “Patricia will give us real visible leadership that will be welcome locally and nationally. She was recruited locally after a local advert.”

She said the move did not represent any diminution of the role of the county council in the STP, pointing out that three councillors sat on the STP chair’s oversight group, alongside five clinical commissioning group and five provider representatives.

However, one senior NHS source familiar with the latest developments told LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal Ms Hewitt’s appointment was a “move to try and bang heads together”.

Norfolk and Waveney was among the STPs NHS England was “most concerned about”, the senior figure said. “There is a concern [the STP] does not have a credible plan, because [major partners] are just not speaking to each other,” they added.

The health economy faces a significant deficit, with the October STP document estimating a £415.6m deficit under a “do nothing” scenario. The area’s NHS providers have pledged to make significant savings under then Norfolk Provider Partnership model, which promised to publish a “comprehensive plan for Norfolk” by summer 2017.

Ms Thomson said: “The STP members have not got a long track record of working together but we have developed a plan for the October submission which got reasonable feedback. Now we’ve got we’ve got a clear programme going on, developing community services and reducing admissions.”

In a statement, Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals Foundation Trust chair John Fry, who had been interim chair of the STP, said: “I am delighted to hand over this role to Patricia. [She] brings huge insight and experience and we warmly welcome her to the role.”

Ms Hewitt, who led the NHS through a financial crisis that emerged after years of funding growth, stood down as the MP for Leicester West MP 2010. She is a member of the Age UK development board and chair of the UK India Business Council, but she will step down from this role later this year.

The Norfolk and Norwich FT statement said she and her husband have had a home in the county for the past six years.

Other STPs have also appointed independent chairs to act as “honest brokers”.

North East London STP appointed Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy chief executive Rob Whiteman in October. NHS Confederation chair Stephen Dorrell, another former health secretary, was appointed to the role for Birmingham and Solihull STP in November.

Ms Hewitt said: “This is a crucial time in health and care services and we must work together collaboratively to continue to provide, and ensure the future of, high quality services for patients in Norfolk and Waveney.”

An STP statement said: “Wendy Thomson was appointed by NHS England in 2016 as the STP lead for the Norfolk and Waveney. Her role is to chair the STP executive team and provide executive leadership of the STP in line with guidance from NHS England.”

NHS England said in a statement NHS England was “very pleased” to see the appointment, which it said was made “for the STP by the STP”. It said it did not consider the STP as one of the STPs that it is “most concerned about”.

The statement: “Ms Hewitt’s appointment builds upon and reinforces the progress made under Wendy Thomson, the chief executive of Norfolk CC, in her role as STP lead and executive group chair. It is a sign that the Norfolk and Waveney STP can continue to develop a strong future.”

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