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Unitary appeals to Matt Hancock in bid to block STP proposals

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Southend-on-Sea BC is set to challenge its local sustainability and transformation partnership’s (STP) plans to reconfigure NHS services in Essex by making a formal referral to the health and social care secretary.

Members of Conservative-led Southend’s people scrutiny committee last night were due to consider a proposal by the Mid and South Essex STP to develop a new specialist stroke unit at Basildon Hospital for providing initial treatment, after which patients would be transferred to units at one of the area’s three hospitals for rehabilitation.

However, the committee backed an amendment by opposition Labour councillors to refer the STP’s entire plan to secretary of state Matt Hancock due to the “adequacy of the content” of the consultation which received 3,500 responses from a population of approximately 1.2 million.

All but one member of the committee backed the move with one Conservative councillor, Denis Garne, abstaining.

The amendment states that Southend fully recognises the need for changes to the provision of health services in the area as the “current model was unsustainable for reasons of recruitment, retention, financial sustainability”. It added the opportunity through the STP to receive £188m in capital investment was also welcome. However, the amendment also referred to Southend’s formal response to the consultation which stated there were “significant areas of concern… which were not in the interests of local health services” and “delivered reduced outcomes for the town’s residents”.

Guidance issued by the Department of Health & Social Care on the STP referral process says any local authority must provide clear evidence for concerns, including an explanation of what steps the scrutiny body has taken to reach agreement with the relevant NHS body. The health and social care secretary has an option following the referral to seek advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which is a non-departmental body of experts on NHS service change.

The STP also includes Essex CC, Thurrock Council, five clinical commissioning groups and four NHS trusts.

Professor Mike Bewick, independent chair of the joint committee of the five clinical commissioning groups in mid and south Essex, said he recognised the importance of scrutiny but admitted being frustrated by the scrutiny committee’s decision.

He added: “We are confident that our consultation process was open and transparent and the evidence behind the models of care recommended will enhance the existing provision of hospital care for our whole population.

“The decision to proceed with these service changes was made by the joint committee of the five clinical commissioning groups in July based on clear and demonstrable evidence, and we know that staff in these services would like to get on making these improvements and end some of the uncertainty they currently face.”

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