Healthwatch Waltham Forest is helping locals get their views heard on NHS services, writes Daniela Muenzel
Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) are five-year plans affecting the future of local health services. Their aim is to improve how services work together in a sustainable way, provide a better quality of care for people, and make efficient use of available resources.
Waltham Forest falls under the North East London STP and the draft plans were published last October. The plan includes strengthening public health campaigning, advice to help people live healthier lives, and a focus on prevention and out-of-hospital care in order to reduce pressures on hospitals.
While few people disagree with its overarching aims, local authorities and residents have raised concerns that the plans, which will radically change health and social care services, have so far had very little public involvement.
To address this, Healthwatch Waltham Forest ran four public events in February and March. Healthwatch’s role is to ensure local residents have a say in shaping and improving health and social care. The aim of the events was to give people a chance to find out what the STP is, ask questions, and hear different perspectives via a discussion involving councillors, Waltham Forest Save Our NHS, and local campaign group Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group.
Councillor Ahsan Khan, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, expressed the Waltham Forest Council’s position: “We are absolutely committed to working together with health partners and our neighbouring boroughs to address the challenges faced by the health and care system in north-east London. While steps are clearly being taken to address issues we’ve highlighted in relation to the STP, further action needs to be taken before the council could fully sign up to it.”
The council has called for the STP to include a stronger case for investment in Whipps Cross; clarity around what happens with Barts Health NHS Trust’s private finance initiative (PFI) contract; a need for concrete plans for investing in social care and public health programmes; and proper public consultation.
A representative from Waltham Forest Save Our NHS explained why it was opposing the plan: “The STPs are hiding government cuts to our health service behind the rhetoric of ‘better care in the community’. In north-east London the cuts will be at least £578million by 2021, yet we will have the biggest population growth in the capital.
“We already don’t have enough hospital beds, yet the STP includes the closure of King George Hospital’s A&E with the loss of more than 300 beds. We have a crisis in social care and don’t have enough GPs or district nurses, yet the STP shifts hospital care into the community. We believe our most vulnerable residents will inevitably suffer unless the public protest against the cuts to our NHS, which is what the STPs are really about.”
A lot of other questions were raised at the events, including whether the cuts in health and social care budgets can be challenged, and concerns about the lack of focus on mental health, ethnic minorities, and gender issues. People also raised concerns about patient safety because of a lack of risk assessment and questioned the ‘unrealistically short’ amount of time allocated for proposed changes to happen.
There was consensus that the STP for north-east London needs more local engagement. Healthwatch Waltham Forest wants to ensure this happens, and would like to hear from residents about how they want to take part.
A spokesperson for the North East London STP said: “We’re committed to involving the public, patients and clinicians in any proposed changes as a result of the STP. The requirement for the NHS to involve and consult patients is a statutory duty and we will meet that duty and ensure patient and public involvement.”
For more information, get in touch with Healthwatch Waltham Forest:
Call 0203 078 9990
The draft North East London STP can be viewed online: