The NHS cannot stand still as everything changes around it. It must respond to growing demographic pressures and make the big local choices needed to improve health and care across England.

The challenges are multiple from A&E waiting times, to GP appointments; from engaging better with patients, to concentrating specialist surgery in fewer locations; from ensuring people have access to the most highly trained doctors and the best equipment, to making better use of resources.

The NHS and local councils have formed local sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) in 44 areas covering all of England to improve health and care, with each area developing proposals built around the needs of its whole population, not just those of individual organisations.

STPs are a way of delivering the reforms set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View (2016-2021) designed to make the NHS more efficient, maintaining or improving the quality of care and health outcomes over the coming years.

Draft plans were produced by June 2016 and ‘final’ plans were submitted in October. These plans are now going through a process of assessment, engagement and further development.

But what do STPs mean for the NHS and for local populations?

STP scope is broad. Initial guidance from NHS England and other national NHS bodies set out three headline issues for local leaders to consider: improving quality and developing new models of care; improving health and wellbeing; and improving efficiency of services.  Leaders were asked to identify the key priorities needed for their locality to meet these challenges and deliver financial balance for the NHS. The plans needed to cover all aspects of NHS spending, as well as focusing on better integration with social care and other local authority services.

As such, the STPs mark a shift from NHS ‘competition’ to ‘collaboration’ in responding to the challenges facing local services. The move also reflects a growing consensus that more integrated models of care are required to meet the changing needs of the population, while recognising that increasing financial challenges in different parts of the service cannot be addressed in isolation.

Partnerships are also being built with other sectors and services outside the NHS to create a more encompassing approach in achieving the ultimate goal of improving the nation’s health and wellbeing.

The NHS Transformation Unit is here to help

The NHS Transformation Unit is currently in talks with a number of STPs, providing insight into the transformation experience and advising the best ways to engage with patients, communities and organisations within their STP footprint. At this early stage, key areas for support have included advising STPs on governance arrangements and on the transformation process/path.

Some of the STP areas cover large parts of the country and localities haven’t historically worked together in this way. The NHS Transformation Unit has produced a map which provides a useful guide to the 44 STP areas. You can download the map here.

If you work in an STP, or are curious about how to engage with one, the NHS Transformation Unit can provide guidance and support.