Speech on Overview & Scrutiny report on Birmingham & Solihull STP

Our Health, Social Care and the Environment Overview & Scrutiny committee has done excellent work over the past weeks and months to shine the light of transparency on the STP process — much of which you can see reflected in the written report.

However, I just wanted to sound a note of caution: let us not, in championing the importance of social care, the prevention agenda and transparency, lose that which we can build the future with.

This plan is clearly unfinished — not least because the people in our neighbourhoods who have something to contribute are yet to do so. And none of us are blind to the £22bn of budget cuts that the Government are expecting the STPs to meet nationally.

But the relationships that are drawing the NHS together within itself, and drawing the NHS and local government together, must be nurtured and maintained. They are bound together by this process. We have to look past the confines of our own institutions and focus on people, their health and wellbeing, the lives they lead. The STP has set us on that path, and it is that path that gives us the best chance of a health system which invests into wellness, into the ability of human beings to look after themselves and one another.

This report rightly highlights that this plan identifies the financial gap in the health and social care system without laying out the plan for how it can be closed. But we need to appreciate that the fact that the gap in social care funding was even included in the ‘system gap’ is as a result of local government leadership: because of Paulette Hamilton, because of Mark Rogers. Not every STP footprint has done this. It gives us a basis for challenging central Government. And it will enable us to use the devolution agenda to address some of these challenges — because local government was part of it, because local government said: this is how things must work.

But it will only work if the NHS, local government and citizens stand together — that means making the STPs work, both on an individual basis and regionally. You would struggle to find a nurse, caring for a patient with heart disease who would not wish that things had been different for that human being, earlier. That they had eaten differently, exercised more.

As it happens, I, in a fit of early-30s health panic — have recently started measuring the amount of sugar I have in a day. The NHS suggests no more than 33g, so this is what I do. And it is hard. Not because it is unpleasant, but because sugar is squirreled away in food which is cheap and convenient to eat, very much the fuel of a councillor with a bad habit for scheduling meetings over mealtimes and using her laptop as a plate. It is easier to eat unhealthily, and unhealthy food is addictive. It costs us billions in healthcare, in people who could be economically active, it ruins lives.

But when you look at what we spent on prevention — a mere four percent of total spending on health, according to the National Audit Office — how could the result be anything but illness? We have an illness system. So let’s make this STP better, let’s grow our leadership within its governance and together, with our colleagues in the NHS, build a healthcare system that enables everyone to care for themselves, for one another, and to stay well.

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