Revealed: Tory Plans for Hospital Closures and Further NHS Privatisation

I have written before about Jeremy Hunt’s opaque and secretive reorganisation of the NHS, which is being drawn up behind closed doors at this very moment through Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

Despite my best efforts, there still seems little appetite among the media to talk about STPs, but I think that will change when the outcome of this project becomes clear. Following the publication of the NHS “reset” (otherwise known as NHS Improvement: Strengthening Financial Performance Accountability in 2016/17), we can finally be a lot clearer about what is in store for local health services and it doesn’t look good.

The “reset” sets out three areas where action will be required to improve the financial position of the NHS. The first two; tackling excessive paybill growth and implementation of Lord Carter’s recommendations on back office efficiency savings are discussed in my last post about the “reset.”

But it is the third that should cause us most concern. It tells us that “by the end of July, STPs should have reviewed services which are unsustainable” and proposes “the consolidation of unsustainable services… with a view to take early decisions to re-provide at nearby units.” This in other words means that some “units” or hospitals will be closed and that it will happen sooner rather than later.

Whatever the rationale behind these closures or mergers might be, it is completely unacceptable that these plans are being drawn up without any scrutiny. There can be no explanation for such an abject failure to provide any kind of transparency, other than a fear from Ministers about what the reaction of the public will be. My concern is that once the plans are published, any changes will be presented as a fait accompli.

The STP plans were initially due for submission by the end of June, but after I probed Ministers as the deadline began to approach, I was told that “the degree of detail that will be provided by 30th June will vary” and promised that sign off of the plans would occur “in a series of waves over the coming weeks and months.” When the plans are finally be published any drafts submitted to Ministers should be open to public scrutiny and consultation.

The third priority of the “reset” goes on to state that STPs should also have “developed plans to re-provide these services in collaboration with other providers.” And if that isn’t a euphemistic enough reference to privatisation for you, the Business Plan of NHS Improvement goes on to outline a priority to “explore” and “facilitate” new private sector partnerships.

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