Hospital and community health services in the NHS are often subject to changes in location or the type of treatment provided, usually as part of a reorganisation of services across larger health areas. In England, reconfiguration decisions are primarily made by local health commissioners or providers, with patients having a legal right to be involved and local authorities having a right to scrutinise proposals.
The National Health Service Act 2006 gives local authorities the right to review and scrutinise proposed changes to health services in their area. NHS providers and commissioners also have a duty to consult with local authorities over any substantial reconfiguration proposals. Where a local authority disagrees with a proposal, it can refer the decision to the Government, who in turn, can request advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
I understand that concerns have been raised about the role of the IRP and its function in scrutinising and reviewing changes to NHS services. Reconfigurations can often be contentious, especially when they include proposals to close or downgrade a local hospital and they are, so often, a smokescreen for privatisation.
Many current reconfiguration proposals in the NHS in England are being delivered through Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) – 44 area-based partnerships between local authorities and NHS bodies. I recognise widespread concerns that STPs may represent a way for the Government to cut NHS services. That’s why, at the last General Election, I stood on a manifesto which committed to halt and review STPs and ask local people to participate in the redrawing of plans, with a focus on patient need rather than available finances.
A report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee raised concerns about a lack of involvement of the public and of local authorities in the STP process. The secrecy in which these plans have been conceived is extremely concerning and contrary to the Government’s duty to be open, transparent and accountable.
I will continue to bear in mind the points you have raised and press the Government to ensure that any plans to reconfigure NHS services are taken in public and with the involvement of patients and local authorities and I will continue to work in Sheffield Save our NHS on this and a large number of other health-related campaigns.