Why changes to the local health economy matter for universities

STPs? To recap – and just so we’re clear – these are new regional strategies which set out how local health and care services will be planned and delivered over the next five years.

Before Christmas, we looked at the current context for change across health and social care and the background to the new plans. Here, we delve a little deeper into the detail and explore some of the STP thematic areas likely to be of most interest to universities.

Where should I focus my attention?

The stand-out areas where I sense some immediate and real opportunities for the university sector to engage with local planning are:

  • Capital infrastructure: a priority for all STPs but an area with very little national finance available. Many of our vast estates are not fit-for-purpose, which means STPs are looking for new and innovative ways of strategically integrating local capital programmes. This requires new and innovative local partners.
  • Workforce: the NHS is made up of people. New models of care need a new local skills focus. They also need to attract the very best to an area. This will mean action at every level of seniority. The Apprenticeship Levy, for example, is now leading NHS Trusts to be more pro-active in shaping supply.
  • Social inclusion: the presence of local authorities in STP planning is reinforcing the need to tackle the determinants of health. This means a renewed focus on public and mental health, and clearer thinking around the links to local regeneration, planning and design.
  • Research and innovation: we need both in health service delivery generally, but also in the commercialisation agenda. Many of the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in England are working to ensure STPs focus on the growth capabilities of their local health and care sector. This is an important relationship for universities.

One question, yet many answers

Presenting a definitive guide to influencing an STP is difficult. While the national policy framework is consistent there will be a broad spectrum of local plans, particularly in terms of ambition, focus, quality and finances. Some footprints are natural, others seem to defy logic. Some will be hamstrung from the outset by intractable, historical issues, others will be a breath of fresh air.

What they will all have are work streams linked roughly around the above areas. Take workforce, for example. Every STP is supported by a Local Workforce Action Board (LWAB). Hopefully, many already have university participation, but this is worth checking.

Find out who is in charge of these work streams, and get your foot in the door. You certainly won’t be alone in approaching them.

Finally, how can HEFCE help?

Our role will be to advise, share and influence. We are already seeing some universities taking the lead and trying to bring local partners together around some of the above areas. Let us know how you get on.


Michael Wood has recently been appointed Deputy Local Growth Consultant at HEFCE. He also works as NHS Local Growth Advisor at NHS Confederation. Contact him on: @NHSLocalGrowth