NHS secrecy row

This time last year, the NHS was ‘restructured’, apparently to make sure the needs of specific parts of the UK got the services they needed. Each new area was told it had to provide Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), which would set out what that individual area needed, and how it would go about delivering those needs.

As part of that, all those different areas of the NHS came together in January this year to form 44 STP ‘footprints’, which would show a bigger picture of what was needed and where, and what was being done to help the patients in each area. The results of these plans and footprints would then supposedly help put into place structured five-year plans.

In other words, rather than providing a flat NHS service everywhere, each area needed to prioritise what it needed for a period of time and save money by not spending it on things they didn’t need. These needs would then be revised later on.

Make no mistake: this is all purely to save money. The residents’ health needs in each designated area is absolutely secondary. This is highlighted in the recent draft Sustainability and Transformation Plan for Merseyside and Cheshire, which suggests a merger of Royal Liverpool and Aintree University hospitals.

Councillor Andy Moorhead has already said that the plan was ‘completed in secrecy’ and that Liverpool City Region ‘will not support’ it.

‘New models of A&E’ are being considered by Southport and Ormskirk Trust, which runs Southport and Formby A&E. In other words, the hospital may reduce its opening hours.

The issue from our point of view is: who is making such decisions about potential life-and-death issues? Louise Shepherd, chief executive of Alder Hey Children's Hospital, who was part of the plan consultation team, admitted that what any potential changes or mergers ‘actually means for services is still to be determined’.

As usual, various jargon terms are being bandied about – an inevitable sign of trouble. The term ‘reconfiguring’ is a favourite, and is suitably vague enough to hide all manner of potential changes.

Councillor Moorhead, who’s in charge of health, wellbeing and social care for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said ‘any decisions by the NHS to reconfigure hospitals’ should ‘be the subject of transparent and open debate’. He went on to rightly suggest that such decisions should also ‘have the support of local communities and NHS staff.’

However, as Shadow health minister and Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston Justin Madders said, the process has been ‘completely lacking in transparency and accountability’ and ‘mired in confusion’.

Labour MP for Wallasey Angela Eagle, who’s also posted a video online in which she expresses her concerns, said that the plan ‘seems to be more about meeting the deficit than actually looking at what kind of health services we need’.

We all know what it means when thinktank representatives and planners talk above, over and behind the backs of those whose lives they are meddling with. Simply put, it’s to keep those that might have concerns and justifiable complaints out of a debate. In this case, that’s completely unacceptable.

Surely even a badly-written consultation paper is better than nothing at all? We’re used to seeing terrible consultation papers, delivered quietly and discreetly, but in this case there’s nothing for service users to look at. Decisions such as these, made about vital NHS services, are too important to be dealt with privately and without consulting those using the services.

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