Tony Davis, commercial director at the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN), offers an insight into the challenges of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs).
It’s more than three years since the concept of STPs was unveiled, and NHS organisations and local authorities across England were asked to collaborate to develop “place-based plans” for the future of healthcare services in their area.
The initial plans then went through a lengthy process of analysis, assessment and engagement, before they were refined and further developed, and then stress-tested to ensure their underlying assumptions were credible and that the proposed services were capable of delivery.
Even after three years, I’m regularly asked what STPs are, how they are progressing and how they operate across the West Midlands. Briefly, we have six; covering Birmingham & Solihull, the Black Country, Coventry & Warwickshire, Herefordshire & Worcestershire, Stoke & Staffordshire, and Shropshire, Telford & the Wrekin.
Their primary aim is to ensure health services are fully integrated across the patient population, so patient data, knowledge, medical records and anything else can be swiftly and efficiently shared between provider organisations. The original plans were established to drive greater collaboration, so the various providers and commissioners could come together as partners, to deliver their STPs. Now we’re beginning to see the emergence of integrated care services (ICS).
Typically, a patient receives care from several professionals across different providers, and sometimes care becomes fragmented and complex to access. Integrated care is designed to reduce those inefficiencies. In theory, ICS should also identify savings to be made from greater efficiency, better collaboration and shared back office systems.
However, the new models are necessarily complex, as they involve several existing providers, commissioners and local authorities, and have the potential to spawn a range of new service providers.
At WMAHSN, we see the development of STPs, and the onset of ICS, as offering new opportunities to increase the adoption of innovation in the way that healthcare is provided and delivered.
Across the region, different models are evolving because, as intended, the six STPs reflected local need. Some are further along the journey to achieving ICS status, for historic reasons, and of course, each has different challenges.
These could be about different technologies, a different population mix, or different logistical issues between urban and rural areas. The secretary of state hasn’t set a deadline, because he recognises that they’re approaching their targets whilst under very difficult financial pressures.
The different STPs upon which the new models will be based can also have different strategic focuses. One might be on acute care, another on issues around mental health, and one might wish to tackle different forms of diabetes, for example.
We will be working very closely with our three AHSN membership and innovation councils, to identify areas where they need our input or support, require specialist advice, or have other potential gaps in their models. At the moment, we’re only working pro-actively with three STPs, because the models for each area are reaching maturity at different times.
One strategic challenge, which will have an impact on all six in different ways, will be the presence of the right leaders with the right experience. Everyone across the region has bought into the concept and the goals, but inevitably, some are better placed to meet their targets.
In the West Midlands, we have a unique opportunity to work holistically across all healthcare sectors, primary, secondary and acute, and to deliver innovative systems that deliver the best possible outcomes for patients given the financial resources which are available. Critical to achieving those goals will be the creation and adoption of new models of care, better use of data, artificial intelligence and new operational structures.”