Checking the pulse of your local health economy

The health and care landscape around you is changing. With local Sustainability and Transformation Plans (or STPs for short) now being published in draft form across England, here is a guide to help universities understand what they are and why they matter.

First the basics

Sustainability and Transformation Plans are the 44 new regional strategies setting out how local health and care services will be planned and delivered over the next five years.

Each STP has a designated Chair responsible for coalescing the many and varied component parts of their local system around the plan – from primary care to specialised services to adult social care, bridging both the NHS and Local Authorities.

So, the NHS is finally becoming ‘place-based’?

Yes, to an extent. Wherever your institution is located in England, there will be a draft STP for your local area, focused on the workings of the whole system, rather than simply the major local hospital.

Lengthy, complicated and perhaps rushed though it may be at this early stage, it is a plan nonetheless. View your STP as a window into your local health and care system, ‘warts and all’.

Surely this is about partnerships?

The issues STPs are tackling are often long-standing, complex and politically contentious (think closing a hospital).

Unlike Combined Authorities, STPs do not have statutory powers or elected leaders to fall back on. So local engagement and local relationships are absolutely critical to the success of a particular plan.

What might this mean for my university or college?

With STPs now the ‘only game in town’ for health and social care leaders, a renewed focus on partnerships that can help close the gap between ambition and reality is needed.

While the 44 STPs will be tailored to local circumstance, there inevitably will be common threads that run throughout them all and that appeal to universities.

From early sight of plans, we might expect these to involve: capital infrastructure, workforce development, social inclusion, and of course, research and innovation. No doubt others will arise as discussions develop.

When will my STP be available?

At the time of writing, virtually all of the 44 STPs have been made available in draft by local leaders, albeit a small number only in summary form. There is no one place to download them, though they should be listed on both local authority and clinical commissioning group websites.

For many, the STP process to date has been challenging. However, as one STP Chair put it last week, it ‘has joined the dots’ across an economy – making it easier for others to understand not only the complexities of the system but importantly, who to approach. Universities are a natural partner of the NHS: we work, train, invest and evaluate together.

Download your local STP now and start identifying the possibilities.


We will publish a follow-up to this post in the New Year, which will look in more detail at some of the particular opportunities the published STPs present for universities.

Michael Wood is NHS Local Growth Advisor at NHS Confederation. Contact him at @NHSLocalGrowth