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Caroline Lloyd

Crucial but not easy: Partnership building in local health economies

CL Blog

This year’s annual NHS Planning guidance for the first time requires NHS leaders to produce two separate but connected plans: an organisational one-year operational plan for 2016/17 and a cross-organisation five-year sustainability and transformation plan (STP).

STPs signal the first time that organisations from across local health economies must come together to transform their quality of care delivery, improve health and wellbeing outcomes and, crucially, stabilise finances. Effective cross-organisation working plans are crucial because they unlock sustainability and transformation funding (totalling £2.1 billion in 16/17), with the most credible plans achieving the earliest funding. However, as the Five Year Forward Plan states, current divides in local health economies have been “set almost in stone since 1948,” and breaking down these “classic” divides to achieve effective cross-organisational working is no small ask. Nevertheless, the impact of successful partnerships across local health economies would be huge.

What is needed to build an effective partnership?

From my experience working with numerous public sector clients, there are three key components to building and maintaining an effective partnership, which local health economies should consider when creating their plans:

  1. Build trust and commitment: Trust and commitment are crucial elements to any relationship, and relationships between organisations are no different. Whilst creating a plan ensure that you develop a mutual understanding of each other’s priorities and how your plan might help, be open to new ideas and don’t bring historical conflicts or opinions into discussions and, finally, ensure that each partner organisation has a meaningful role and the opportunity to commit and contribute to the realisation of the plan.
  2. Keep your eye on the prize: Being clear about the purpose and goals of the partnership, and checking back against these goals, will help maintain momentum and direction. The literature around STPs has been clear about the three key outcomes of the plans, namely, improved health and wellbeing, transformed quality of care delivery and sustainable finance. Agree what this looks like for your local area, and co-create a plan and governance structure which can deliver it.
  3. Communicate and adapt: During the next five years’ problems will arise and situations will change, therefore successful, lasting partnerships need to allow for open and honest communications and the flexibility to overcome problems and exploit opportunities as they arise.

There is “broad consensus on what the future needs to be” for health, and that future involves breaking down the “classic divide” between services. A crucial first stage in this is recognising your current position – in some areas, the foundations of strong partnerships are already in place, in others, they will take time to build and cement. However, in every area creating a STP, time and effort will need to be invested in building trust and commitment, agreeing direction and creating open communication between partner organisations.

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