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District councils need a place at the STP planning table

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Michelle Lowe, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and health at Sevenoaks District Council, discusses how district councils can play an important part in making sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) work through their housing role.

Across the country various footprints (made up of clinical commissioning groups and upper tier local authorities) are publishing their STPs, which propose how they will transform our services to meet the changing needs of local people. They aim to provide better and more integrated care in a more cost-effective way. 

Their aim is to transform care for patients, moving to a model which prevents ill health, intervenes earlier, and delivers excellent, integrated care closer to home. It starts with integrating hospital and social care so that our most vulnerable people do not fall between the cracks of the NHS and social services. 

A seat at the planning table 

However, housing is the missing third of this vital triangle. Ensuring that people are living in the most suitable housing, whether it is purpose-built or adapted with Disabled Facility Grants, will not only help prevent falls and hospital admissions, but provide safe environments for people to return to after being discharged from hospital. Or they may need some supported housing but not full social care. In order to have a fully integrated out-of-hospital care system, the housing team needs a seat at the planning table – and that means inviting district councils along. 

Districts specialise in shaping communities. We work with the third sector and businesses to create dementia-friendly communities, age-friendly communities and family-friendly communities. The more local communities are geared up to care for our vulnerable people, the less likely they are to be admitted to hospital and need social care. Community safety is also an important district role, and that also plays an important part in enabling people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. District councils are a vital partner when it comes to managing an increasingly older population and making sure they live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible. 

Creating the right communities 

Making sure mental health enjoys the same medical support as physical health is another important component of the STPs. District councils are not mental health specialists, but there is a lot we can do to promote mental wellbeing. Planning communities with greenery and access to open spaces, ensuring homes are not isolated or overcrowded helps prevent mental health issues. Our community work can help put people in touch with groups such as singing or gardening that may help. Debt and mental health seem to be linked. Due to our housing role, district councils provide different sorts of debt advice which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Environmental health can help tackle noise nuisance – another cause of mental health issues – and the list goes on.  

STP footprints recognise they need to tackle their four main priority areas: prevention, local care, hospital transformation and mental health. And district councils can help make a real difference in achieving these aims. 

Prevention is a district council’s core business. We shape local environments through planning, housing, licencing, leisure and environmental health. These are a district council’s core business. We can use our core functions holistically and strategically together to shape more healthy environments that encourage more independent living, and ensure communities are better able to support people discharged from hospital, reducing reliance on hospital beds and social care. 

Our housing functions can help with local care for those that need less clinical and specialist support to live at home, and by using our functions we can help create environments that promote and sustain mental wellbeing. 

Now that our various footprints are publishing their STPs, they will need to start planning how they turn their plans into action. I am hoping that there will be a flurry of activity in the New Year, as each footprint contacts their district councils to see how they can use their functions to help turn the STPs into reality.

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