To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of any hospital closures resulting from the implementation of Sustainability and Transformation Plans on Accident and Emergency departments.
My Lords, sustainability and transformation plans, or STPs, are about local health stakeholders coming together to make sure that NHS services are placed on a sustainable footing and are being transformed for the future. Any significant changes outlined in the STPs will have to meet the four reconfiguration tests of strong public and patient engagement, a clear clinical evidence base, support for patient choice and support from clinicians.
I thank the Minister for his reply but, in view of the problems about which we heard in the last Question and the fact that accident and emergency departments and other hospital services deal with many social care needs, does the Minister agree that it is vital that there is sufficient capacity in the community to manage the demands for community services which closures will inevitably cause, and that this must be established before any closures take place? Will the Minister therefore tell the House specifically when, by whom and how this assessment of the adequacy of community services will take place?
As the noble Baroness has pointed out, it is important that there is sufficient capacity in the social care service and in the NHS. In fact, the NHS accounts for more of the delayed discharges, for example, than does social care. Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, has been clear that, in addition to the four reconfiguration tests, any bed closures would need to show that there was redundancy in the system, that there is alternative provision—to come to the noble Baroness’s point—and that there is clear potential for efficiency. It is clear that the STPs must be able to plan ahead and provide alternatives if there are going to be changes to A&E or other services.
My Lords, given that 50% to 60% of patients attending A&E in some hospitals hit the four-hour target, how many more hospitals will hit the target when some adjoining hospitals close their A&E departments? This does not sound like excess capacity.
The noble Baroness is right to point out that the four-hour target is critical for the NHS and it is committed to making sure that that target is hit. Some A&E closures have been mooted but only seven areas, according to the Health Service Journal, have clear proposals, and that is before there has been any public engagement and any application of the reconfiguration test. I point the noble Baroness to the comments of Simon Stevens about the importance of demonstrating alternative provision and that it cannot be a case of closing beds without that being in place.
My Lords, I ask the Minister not to forget people living in rural communities, who are already disadvantaged regarding social care because their carers are not paid for their travelling. If hospitals are to close it will mean that they and their relations will have to travel further. It is therefore important, first, that they do not have to go into hospital unless it is absolutely necessary; and, secondly, that they have the right sort of care.
The noble Countess is right. Additional funding in the Budget will mean that local authorities and the NHS have more resources to account for things such as travel costs and unit care costs for care workers. Some of the STPs are dealing with urban areas and some with more rural areas. All the plans within those configurations have to take account of public engagement. As I have said, there cannot be changes without meeting the reconfiguration tests that we have set out, which must account for local circumstances.
My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that the reviews of social care will include looking at the impact of the withdrawal by councils of help for those with moderate needs in order to focus social care on those with substantial needs? Has the emergency admission of elderly people who were not given the care that they might have needed had an impact on A&E services in certain areas? Further, will the demographics of ageing populations be taken into account when looking at the closure of A&E departments?
My noble friend is quite right to bring the attention of the House to the effect of standards. The Care Act 2014 introduced for the first time national standards as well as much greater transparency in the provision of care. What the announcement in the Budget of additional funding for social care allows for is particularly a focus on the interface between the NHS and social care, which is where the issue of delayed transfers can arise. I can provide my noble friend with a reassurance that the Green Paper will be looking at this issue in the round, carrying on from the work done in the Budget to try to address the interface between the social care and health systems.
My Lords, what is the Minister’s response to the key questions asked in the recent King’s Fund progress assessment on how STPs are to be funded and how integrated care is to be delivered in the context of having, in its words, a,
“‘workaround’ … of the complex and fragmented organisational arrangements that are the legacy of the Health and Social Care Act 2012‘”, and when the NHS is under huge pressure to make £22 billion of efficiency savings and to improve performance? Does this not show that the thinking and modelling behind STPs are deeply flawed?
I am sorry to hear the noble Baroness say that about the STPs, which have received support from the King’s Fund and NHS clinical commissioners. I hope that she is also aware that in the Budget the Chancellor announced £325 million of capital spending to support the strongest STPs, those which are capable of providing the kind of integration she has talked about and are delivering the highest levels of performance.
My Lords, will the Minister share with us whether the department has provided advice or best practice in the localities on the first test of the service reconfiguration? A great deal of disquiet has emerged about a lack of engagement of key partners, never mind mobilising the support of the wider community.
The noble Lord is quite right to bring up the issue of engagement. Those STPs which have been completed and published in draft form are now going through the engagement process. They are also being stress tested by NHS England and NHS Improvement to provide exactly the kind of scrutiny that he has talked about. Finally, in addition to the tests I have mentioned, there can be no significant service reconfigurations or bed closures without passing those tests and without public consultation to provide precisely the reassurance that these changes are about delivering national standards—they are not about trying to find a way around them.