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16.09.16

Formal consultation ‘likely to be needed’ if STPs include hospital closures

All local health groups have been instructed to involve local people in consultations on their sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) in new guidance from NHS England.

Simon Stevens, the CEO of NHS England, promised the guidance would be published in his keynote speech at NHS Expo after campaign group 38 Degrees published a report warning that the plans could lead to hospital closures.

The guidance says footprints should engage with local people and public and patient groups via HealthWatch, starting once enough information is available to identify key stakeholders but before plans are published.

Footprints should then develop engagement plans, although the guidance said the exact timescale would depend on the impact of the changes in the local area and the amount of engagement that has already taken place.

It said a consultation is not needed for every service change, but will “likely be needed” when plans involve “substantial changes to the configuration of health services in a local area”, including “hospital closure, or significant service change”.

“It is therefore necessary to include consideration of the need for public consultation, and how this can be undertaken if required, in the overall STP,” the document said. “This will also trigger the requirement to consult the local authority on substantial developments or variation in health services.”

STP footprints and membership organisations are recommended to take advice from a legal perspective if necessary, as well as consulting with local stakeholders.

The guidance also said it is important that the footprint makes it clear to stakeholders that it is using existing patient feedback, and provides them with set dates for the publication of plans and consultation.

Furthermore, it said different organisations within a footprint should work together to develop consultation plans.

The consultation should involve a variety of methods, including digital involvement, face-to-face meetings, focus groups and meetings with specific communities, although the guidance cautioned that online methods are “unlikely to be accessible for all audiences”.

In addition, the guidance said plans should be published in “jargon free and accessible language” so that people can participate meaningfully, and that the consultation should last for 12 weeks unless STPs can justify a shorter consultation period.

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott proposed a motion calling for the government to publish the plans and arrange “an adequate consultation period”, but it was rejected in Parliament yesterday.

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