I had an email exchange recently with someone I know asking me to join a demonstration for the NHS. She is a committed Jeremy Corbyn fan, and the march was forged in his grey-bearded image. More pay for nurses (OK, I’ll march for that); a 100% publically owned NHS (congratulations, you’ve just abolished general practice); and an end to Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs). It was there she lost me. It spoke volumes to me about why in the last six months, Labour has been losing public support on the NHS, even in the face of gross government underfunding and plummeting patient satisfaction rates.
In the Corbyn universe, where policy should be a comforting 1970s-flavoured craft ale rather than an attempt to read a difficult future, STPs are a means to close hospitals and usher in privatisation by stealth. I tried to convince her otherwise, that they are a step back from the market-led excesses of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and an honest attempt to begin the integration of services necessary for the survival of the NHS. I didn’t succeed. True, the drivers of STPs haven’t done themselves any favours. Plans have been hastily assembled, poorly explained and bypassed input from key stakeholders. But they represent a genuine opportunity to recast the NHS from a service that reacts to illness, to a more nimble primary care-led version that promotes health. This, in short, is the only game in town. We cannot turn the clock back, whether to 2012 or 1945.