Leader of region’s new health plan quashes fears over hospital closures as local chiefs submit document to NHS bosses for approval

Dr Wendy Thomson, the managing director of Norfolk County Council who is leading the talks on Norfol

Dr Wendy Thomson, the managing director of Norfolk County Council who is leading the talks on Norfolk and Waveney's new health plan. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The woman tasked with leading discussions for the region's new health plan says changes to NHS services will not start until 2017.

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper Dr Wendy Thomson, managing director of Norfolk County Council, also dispelled fears about hospital closures, but non-emergency hospital services may be moved to free up the backlog of people waiting for treatment.

Her comments are published today - the same day that the plan, known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (ST), is sent to NHS England for approval.

What is the STP?

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Norfolk and Waveney's health chiefs are drawing up the STP to change the way NHS services are provided.

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This is because future forecasts suggest the region's NHS faces a £440m budget deficit by 2020.

To stop this STP leaders want to keep patients out of hospitals by expanding community health and GP services - and save around £160m from doing so.

Can the STP deliver enough savings?

Dr Thomson rejected that the STP team did not believe it could achieve the savings required - following a recent claim about STPs across the country by NHS Providers boss Chris Hopson.

'We think we can go a long way to closing that gap,' Dr Thomson said.

'Do I think we have absolutely cracked it? Definitely not.

'We have such a lot of work to do to get our plans into detail.

'I can see good scope for getting use of resources by managing demand in different ways.'

What will change?

Dr Thomson hinted that non-emergency services may be moved around the region in order to free up the queue of 'a few thousand people' who are waiting longer than 18 weeks for surgery - a breach of a national target.

'We're not meeting this target by a long way,' Dr Thomson said.

'We have to put the work in the best place that meets the timeframe.'

She said GPs and community healthcare are key to the plan and added 'the GPs as they are are not sustainable'.

'The GPs have too much work to do,' Dr Thomson said.

'We can take work off them, for example by using telehealth.'

A big part of the STP will focus on providing care to people outside hospital and in the community.

Dr Thomson said: 'We have got 10,000 beds in care homes and if something happens to patients the staff will take them to hospital by ambulance, but mostly that's not the best thing and they will deteriorate in hospital and take longer to resettle when they are discharged.'

Will there be changes to local NHS organisations?

The STPs, which are being drawn up across the country, have been criticised by campaigners as a smokescreen for cutting services.

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, has said he believes the STPs are simply a vehicle for cuts.

In other parts of the country the STPs have proposed bed cuts and changes to local A&E services.

However Dr Thomson has previously said demand is already high on existing services, and today added: 'There has never been a discussion about hospital closures.

She added: 'Norfolk hasn't worked like this before.'

According to Dr Thomson preliminary discussions between all the region's NHS bodies took place last autumn, even before any mention of STPs.

'I had been here for just a year or so and it was clear there were issues between commissioners and providers which I couldn't see being addressed.

'So we brought everyone who needed to work together at Carrow Road, and that view was shared.

'Now we have got our organisations to recognise it's a good idea to look at their resources together to see how we can best servce the community.'

And she added the public must recognise the reason things are changing is not because of cuts - it's because they need to change.

What happens now?

The Norfolk and Waveney STP is today submitted, along with the other 43 STPs across the country, to NHS England for approval.

The contents of our local STP have not been shared yet, though the June submission to NHS England was finally revealed earlier this month.

NHS England has indicated that summaries of the STPs will be published by the end of November or start of December.

But any changes to the way healthcare is provided in Norfolk and Waveney will not be felt this year.

Dr Thomson said: 'It will probably be the new year before implementation.'

Meanwhile health chiefs in charge of the Suffolk and North East Essex STP are searching for a new chairman, after the current STP lead officer Nick Hulme becoming chief executive of both Ipswich and Colchester hospitals.

Have you got a health story?

Contact our health correspondent by emailing nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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