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Michael Wood: Hospitals must act like anchor institutions

Michael Wood
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One consequence of closer cross-sector working is an introduction to our local partners’ very own jargon; it often feels like you are learning a new language mid-meeting.

One such concept, widely understood by local government and universities and now slowly seeping into health sector lexicon, is that of the anchor institution.

With the evolution of the place agenda and the widening regional economic divides in England, the strategic contribution of anchor institutions to their local economy is growing more recognisable. All anchor institutions have a stake in seeing their local place meet its potential and vice versa, bringing both responsibility and much greater local influence. This is particularly the case when working collectively, as is increasingly the case.

It’s hugely positive, then, that in some places hospital executives are now sitting down with local colleagues to compare supply chains and map out what more aligned local procurement might look like. HR directors, concerned about their future workforce, are developing links between hospitals and local schools, while others look to develop public-sector leadership courses across local partners. Sustainability and transformation partnership and accountable care system estate plans refer to programmes such as One Public Estate much more than previously and local enterprise partnerships’ economic priorities are much more reflective of the powers of health innovation.

However, the alternative to fulfilling the responsibilities of an anchor institution is often isolated decision-making. Recent reports that one in four NHS Trusts are routinely delaying payments to suppliers due to cash-flow problems is an example of how anchors can weigh down the local economy just as easily as they can provide stability. There may be valid reasons at board level for this type of action, yet at best it is forcing small companies out of supply chains. At worst, it is directly affecting local job security and may actually increase demand on our public services.

Whether it is their spatial immobility, their size or their social purpose, hospitals tick every typical characteristic of an anchor institution, yet all too rarely at present do they think or act like one. Failure to do so limits the influence the NHS can have locally, yet it can also bring negative consequences for the wider local economy. As your place discusses what the local pound looks like, it pays to have a common understanding of the role of its anchors.

Michael Wood, local growth advisor, NHS Confederation, @NHSLocalGrowth

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