My South London Press column, 18/11/2016

Those of us who grew up in the 60s remember the letters STP in white on a red background from advertising on racing cars – the mystery was we saw the adverts but never actually saw the product itself. In the last few months those same letters have re-emerged but this time they refer to Sustainability and Transformation Plans for the NHS. But what those plans mean is almost as mysterious as the STP of old (it was a petrol additive in case you were wondering!).

As I write, most of the 44 STPs haven’t even been published but at least the plan covering South East London is available – along with other Council leaders from this area I insisted that it be made public as soon as possible and you will be able to find it by visiting our web site.

The background to the making of these plans is the huge financial pressures facing not only the NHS but Councils that provide Social Care too. We are living longer, which is great news, but it also means that there are more of us needing medical attention and care in later life. This would have been a challenge in any circumstances but the impact of the Government’s austerity programme has significantly reduced the resources available to meet that rising demand.

In Lewisham we remember only too well the ham fisted attempt to run down A&E and Maternity services at Lewisham Hospital which we halted after a great public campaign and a legal challenge to the Secretary of State. One of the mistakes that Government made then was to try and impose a “top down” solution. It was always accepted that there might need to be some changes but these needed to be based on local knowledge and be subject to thorough local discussion. Instead they were worked up by expensive consultancies that offered neither of those things.

If the publication of the STPs is the beginning of a process where everyone who has an interest and a contribution to make is given an opportunity to engage we might see some positive outcomes. It is very early days and we will all need to look closely at what is in these plans and what they might means for our communities. Some of the headlines make sense – I think we all know that if we can stop folk becoming ill in the first place it is better for all concerned. Equally getting Health services and Council services working together seamlessly can only be a good thing.

However it will be the detail of how these things are achieved that really matters. If this is just a way to make cuts in order to balance the books many of us will feel very let down. To enable our population to become healthier, which will potentially save money in the long run, the resources must be invested now to change the way things work. No amount of effort locally to improve things will make a difference if the Government don’t face up to the reality that they are currently failing to fund both Health Care and Social Care adequately. The Chancellor will be making his Autumn Statement soon – it’s his chance to show that he recognises the problem and is willing to address it – let see if he takes that chance!

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