Sustainability and Transformation Plans are being produced by 44 partnerships all over England in response to the NHS Five Year Forward View, the 2014 document that set out a vision for the future of the health service. As someone who is sceptical about yet another health and social care "transformation project", I thought it was time to find out what local voluntary sector leaders think about STPs and how they are engaging with them.
Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of Navca, the local infrastructure charity, tells me: "For NHS leaders, STPs are seen as the way to deliver the necessary transformation of services, so it's crucial that local voluntary organisations are involved, helping people to have a say about their own local services. Areas such as Stockton and Northamptonshire show that good engagement with the voluntary sector is possible."
David Pearson, director of adult social care, health and public protection at Nottinghamshire County Council and STP lead for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, said in his response to feedback on its five-year draft plan: "With a significant funding gap, we need to think carefully about how we organise ourselves to provide the right care in the right place to maximise value for the public money we spend on local services."
Acknowledging that a "funding gap" is driving the need for a fundamental change in services is strikingly honest, but is bound to bring sceptical responses. I therefore sought the views of David Smith, chief executive of Hull and East Yorkshire Mind, who has described previous change projects as "doing little more than creating photo opportunities and jobs for the perennial transformation consultants".
This time I find him taking a more positive approach. "For once we have been able to pretty much set our own agenda," he says. "When I sit around a table with people from across the Humber Coast and Vale STP Mental Health Group, it's obvious how much frustration there is with the status quo and how much energy there is for doing things differently."
Smith believes there is an opportunity to escape the limitations of historic agreements and relationships that have been barriers to change.
Smith has at least got at seat at the table that matters in his area. Maria Ward, network officer at Nottingham CVS, says the voluntary sector secured only three places on the STP advisory group in February after holding commissioning events attended by more than 80 voluntary organisations. An opportunity to influence the STP has now been opened up.
In Derbyshire, a completely different approach has been taken by Kim Harper, chief executive of Community Action Derby, and Vita Snowden, chief executive of Creative Carers. In April they published a "shadow STP" called Local Communities: Joined Up Care, which they want to see "merged" with the official draft STP. Snowden says: "We want a fresh approach where people's needs are at the heart of everything, rather than a futile reliance on system changes driven by officials."
The authors describe "common sense" community and self-care solutions, which they claim can lead to savings. It's a challenging read and a clear demonstration that the local voluntary sector can influence the content of STPs where there is a good leadership.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser