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​Metro Mayors are coming – does the NHS know?

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Whether the change in season brings any light relief from the harsh winter pressures the service is facing is uncertain. What is certain is that we are now just two months away from a series of potentially very significant elections in six parts of England.

Given the intermittent involvement of the health sector in emerging combined authority plans it’s perhaps not surprising to hear little talk of metro mayors from NHS colleagues. However, it would be foolish to ignore this new tier of democracy.

My attention was taken recently by a ComRes poll conducted on behalf of Centre for Cities, which stated that in the West of England the provision of healthcare was identified as the most important political priority. This, however, was not an area that its mayoral combined authority will have any devolved power over. Brunel would have difficulty bridging that gap.

In short, health and care matter to the public and these newly elected mayors are going to have something to say about it. It may be they already have in their campaign. The power of persuasion is one that you won’t find in any written devolution agreement yet is often the most important. This will present a challenge to local system leaders, to which the answer needs to be extremely delicate.

However, it also provides opportunities to those health service colleagues who understand the increasing importance of the local growth agenda.

The influence mayoral combined authorities, and thus mayors, will wield over skills, for example, is important in assuring future local health and care workforce. Similarly, powers and focus on strategic planning, infrastructure, regeneration and financial borrowing are all key enablers. The West Midlands Combined Authority has a commission looking specifically at mental health. The list is lengthy.

It is the power of persuasion that most interests me. Metro mayors will be the figurehead and champion for their city region. They will articulate a local vision for change directly to the citizens. It would be inconceivable, and I think irresponsible, for health and care not to feature in this vision.

Michael Wood is NHS Local Growth Advisor at NHS Confederation. Follow him on @NHSLocalGrowth

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