A series of events in central Lancashire to discuss the future of health and social care services ends in Chorley tonight.
The drop-in sessions - which have also taken place in Preston and Leyland this week - are a precursor to a major public consultation about proposed changes to services across Lancashire and South Cumbria. Tonight's event is at Chorley Town Hall between 6pm and 8pm.
Papers presented to a committee of healthcare commissioners describe as “urgent” the need to ask residents for their opinion on the as-yet-unpublished plans.
And the scale of the challenge means a communications firm could be drafted in to ensure legal requirements about consulting the public are met.
“If we have to put our foot on the accelerator really quickly to bring existing work to consultation, we will have the ability to do that,” Gary Raphael, Finance Director for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, told a recent meeting of the Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups (JCCCG).
The meeting, in Preston, also heard an indication of which parts of the patch could expect the most significant service change suggestions.
Gary Raphael told the committee that proposals for central Lancashire “will require [formal] consultation”, whereas that “may not necessarily be the case” for all plans in the other sub-regions – Fylde coast, Pennine Lancashire, West Lancashire and North Lancashire/South Cumbria.
Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria (HLSC) - an umbrella organisation comprising more than two dozen health and social care organisations in the area - has been conducting informal events for residents over the last 18 months and holding JCCCG meetings in public.
In a statement issued after the meeting, HLSC said: “The report discussed at the JCCCG apprised the committee on the steps that have been taken to ensure that [we have] the necessary expertise and staffing resources available to…execute any legally valid consultation processes that may be required in respect of forthcoming service change proposals.”
HLSC will be assisted in any consultations by the communications agency Freshwater. The company’s website boasts of previous work for the NHS, including the management of a stakeholder engagement programme for a healthcare reorganisation affecting two million people in North West London.
The JCCCG meeting was told that the NHS in the region intends to develop its own in-house resources for future consultations, but Gary Raphael added: “It’s possible by the time we have all the staff we need, [that] the consultations could have started.”
Moves towards more formal consultation suggest plans to overhaul health and social care in Lancashire and South Cumbria are accelerating.
The process began almost two years ago when the region became one of 44 across England to produce a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP). The document identified a combined projected funding gap of £572m in the health and social care budgets of the area by 2021 - if nothing were done to manage increasing demand and provide services more efficiently.