Tag Archives: STP

HEE budget slashed – turning NHS crisis into a catastrophe

Sunil BhanotSunil Bhanot is a GP partner in Hampshire, trainer, appraiser and member of RCGP Council.

Our NHS is about to lurch from crisis to catastrophe. Our capacity to change and cope with increasing demand is going to be undermined. Health Education England’s budget is being slashed by 30% from next month. I fear that this will have a significant impact on GP training and the transformation of the whole NHS workforce in moving towards a sustainable health care service.

It is only recently that this massive reduction in funding has been confirmed, planning has begun and it is becoming apparent that there is increasing central pressure from HM Treasury for it to be implemented by the end of the next financial year. HEE staff around the country have received emails asking them to consider voluntary redundancy and reply by 6th March.

As it is becoming common place in our NHS, professional and public consultation has again been neglected. The worst day in the lives of many leading educators has been smothered by the secrecy of contractual obligations so that they have to deny even the possibility that there may be negative implications of the cuts. It is this very lack of transparency and honesty that puts at risk patient safety, the quality of care that we are able to provide and trust in everything that we do in our NHS.

Talking to many leading educational colleagues from around the country, they are shaken to the core but are unable to share their significant concerns and have to try to exude external confidence and calm and keep smiling. This is no way to treat hard-working, dedicated and committed HEE staff who are passionate about our NHS ethos.

Educational colleagues are shaken to the core but are unable to share their significant concerns.

On its website, HEE states that it exists for one reason only, “to support the delivery of excellent healthcare and health improvement to the patients and public of England by ensuring that the workforce of today and tomorrow has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours”. While the CQC talks of an NHS “burning platform” which is not fit for the future and the King’s Fund about the “credibility” of the STPs, we are about to destroy any potential for regeneration. I suggest that a 30% cut in the HEE budget will harm all our efforts to deliver the promise of progress.

The “Five Year Forward View” and the Sustainability and Transformation Plans require a workforce that has enhanced training, is flexible, efficient and effective and remains motivated to continue to learn and develop, focusing on improving the quality of patient care. This needs investment in education, training and professional development not just the articulation of hopes and aspirations followed by a kick in the teeth. There is immense pressure to increase the number of doctors, nurses and allied professionals in our NHS especially with Brexit. The challenge to develop different ways of working and retain our workforce is equally daunting. And I doubt that the Chancellor will mention the cuts in next week’s Budget statement.

I am asking for an open and honest conversation, decent engagement with the profession and the public, on the challenges and opportunities to transform our NHS with our limited resources for learning and teaching. I’m asking the RCGP, other Royal Colleges, GPC and the BMA to share our concerns with HEE, our Health Secretary, HM Treasury and the Prime Minister. We need to work with Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England to explore an alternative way forward.

I am not looking for sympathy and warm words, but I am asking for a pause and some time to consider the truthful and real implications. And, therefore, please RCGP and BMA, publish and share the responses that you get.

Just how successful are STPs likely to be?

Jonathan Leach

Jonathan Leach

Jonathan Leach is a GP in Bromsgrove and Chair of the Midlands Faculty of RCGP. Jonathan initially pursued a military career for 25 years as a doctor before returning to the NHS. He is especially interested in supporting general practice at a time when it is under significant pressure.
Jonathan Leach

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PlansThe NHS in England is going through a process called Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). As the NHS England website describes “each system will produce a multi-year Sustainability and Transformation Plan showing how local services will evolve and become sustainable over the next five years – ultimately delivering the Five Year Forward View vision of better health, better patient care and improved NHS efficiency”.1

All 44 STP areas have now published their plans and it appears that there are a number of common themes. Firstly that there is a recognition that there are efficiencies and cost reductions to be gained by reducing back off costs, by improving procurement (mainly from single and at scale purchasing) and by co-locating health and social care staff and thus being able to reduce the buildings estate and improve integration. Secondly by reducing (or at least not having any more) acute and hospital beds often by centralising services in a given area. Thirdly that a considerable amount of work currently undertaken in a hospital sector can be encompassed within primary care and that primary care (including general practice) will have the capacity to undertake additional work transferred from secondary care by improved prevention, better integration and the greater use of (predominantly) nursing and allied staff supported by better social care and that fourthly that themes 1 to 3 will lead to better care and at lower costs. Do current STP plans stand up to scrutiny and have they used the lessons of history in building their plans?

It may surprise some to realise that a British health service successfully did a very similar task over 20 years ago. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall there remained a British population attached to HM Forces in North West Europe and spread from Berlin through Northern Germany and into the Low Countries. It was served by British GP and community practices (often with integrated community hospital type beds) with British hospital services located at four locations across the wide geographical area. There was widespread recognition that whilst primary care (including general practice) services were good, access to secondary care was difficult due to the large distances patients had to travel and that the overall system was inefficient and expensive even if other standards were high. Following considerable work, the eventual model implemented a system whereby it increased the focus on community services; on prevention; on only referring patients to hospital when the experience, expertise and technology that a hospital setting could provide and it integrated staff under one management structure. Within this all health staff (including community based consultants) used the same GP based computer system2 and within the structure there was the ability to ‘flex” staff in a geographical region according to patient demand.

A key element of the changes was the closure of the British Military Hospitals and a change to accessing local German hospital services for episodes of care under contract. Within this was an aim to save over £4M or 10% of the then budget (based at 1994 prices).3 As part of the process there was a ‘bottom up’ mathematically derived approach on the numbers and types of community staff required to meet both accessibility needs and quality standards and especially in the changed system whereby many services which had previously been supplied in a hospital setting moved into the community.With the changes predicted to hospital services, there was a significant increase in community resources and staff which included general practitioners, midwives, health visitors and others.

There are clear parallels from the above experience in British Forces Germany (BFG) to the challenges that currently confront STPs; what can be learnt from this experience? Firstly that there needs to be a single and coherent vision based upon a needs assessment of the population; in BFG there was a large evidence based exercise in involving patients by means of questionnaires, public meetings and focus groups and it was clear that most patients wanted improved access and that travelling the large distances for British secondary care was unacceptable. Secondly there needs to be “cross system” professional engagement and broad agreement on the direction of travel; within this is an ability to address the many difficult issues and questions that any major system change will raise. Thirdly that there needs to be a full understanding that as hospital systems change, that there is detailed plan (including mathematical modelling) of how, where and when community services would be able to cope with the increase in patient volumes and potential complexity. The BFG experience is that practice workload increased by approximately 10%, so this area is not to be underestimated and as described above was expected and met with a large increase in staffing of all groups. Fourthly that whilst integration is helpful (predominantly to the quality of care), improvements in productivity are likely to be marginal. Other studies have reached similar conclusions.5

The challenges confronting STP leaders are significant.  In many cases engagement with the public, the professions and politicians has only just started – this is to be regretted as consistent evidence on system change is that early engagement, considering and overcoming barriers is required. Secondly there needs to be urgent analysis of the implication of proposed changes to hospital services on the community services including general practice This is much wider than increasing the number of nursing and allied staff but must include where and how medical care is provided including prescribing, taking a broad holistic approach to patients many of whom have polymorbidity, managing risk and where responsibility for decisions lies. An analysis of published STP proposals reveals that this area of detail is lacking in all. Finally there needs to be an overview on whether current STP plans can be delivered in planned timescales given the significant number of barriers they are likely to encounter and very importantly whether in reality they are likely to deliver the required improvements in productivity and cost reduction without significantly affecting patient safety and experience.

References

1. https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/futurenhs/deliver-forward-view/stp/ accessed 18 Dec 16
2. Everington P and Leach AJ. Integrated Primary Led Care – A view of the future? In Richards J (Ed). Conference Proceedings – Current Perspectives In Healthcare Computing. 1996.
3. Hansard http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1996/jun/04/market-testing accessed 18 Dec 16
4. Leach AJ, Whitmore MK, Schofield J, Morris G. Health Service Market Testing – the Experience of the Community Services Review Team in British Forces Germany. J R Army Med Corps. 1996. 142. 67-70.
5. McWilliams JM. Cost Containment and the Tale of Care Coordination.  N Eng J Med 2016: 375: 2218-2220

STPs – plans being made about us, without us?

Jonathan Leach

Jonathan Leach

Jonathan Leach is a GP in Bromsgrove and Chair of the Midlands Faculty of RCGP. Jonathan initially pursued a military career for 25 years as a doctor before returning to the NHS. He is especially interested in supporting general practice at a time when it is under significant pressure.
Jonathan Leach

Latest posts by Jonathan Leach (see all)

NHS England is in the process of implementing the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP), which draws together Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and providers to show “how local services will evolve and become sustainable over the next five years”. In each geographical area there is a STP board who are considering the nine “must do’s” which range from meeting access targets for A&E and ambulance waiting times, ensuring that referral to treatment targets are met, plus other treatment targets such as waiting time for patients with suspected cancer and mental health access targets. Included within the list is a “must do” to address the sustainability and quality of general practice but probably the biggest challenge is to move the whole NHS into financial balance on a backdrop that most provider trusts are in significant financial deficit.

Emerging information from STP boards is that plans are heavily swayed by the need to meet financial balance and to meet specific targets such as A & E access times. There is also concern that many STP leaders have conflicts of interest as chief executives of large provider trusts or local government organisations.

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“Plans are being made about us, but without us”

A recent joint LMC/RCGP workshop in the West Midlands looked at what engagement there had been with general practice. It was disappointing to find that many STP boards had limited or no input from general practice but probably the biggest concern that emerging plans did not take a whole system approach and in particular consider whether general practice and the wider community services has the current capacity to manage a larger patient volume as hospital services change. A separate question was about whether some of the patients would be better predominantly treated in a secondary or primary care setting. One delegate succinctly described matters as “plans are being made about us, but without us”.

The view from the West Midlands workshop was very clear that unless there is a clear plan to increase capacity in the community services as hospitals change, then patient harm will occur. These plans need to be greater than  “working at scale and integrate” as whilst economies of scale will help, they will not address sufficiently the overall capacity of general practice and the community services to manage more patients who are currently seen in a secondary care setting. There was also a significant concern that increasing the workload within general practice was likely to make current concerns about the retention and recruitment of primary care staff worse.

What is therefore key as STP boards make their plans is that they need to consider a whole system approach and incorporate the voice of general practice at a strategic level. This voice needs to understand and articulate the views of general practice and the wider community services with the requirement that system changes are only made once it is clear that these services can appropriately manage the greater number of patients in a community setting.