Bevan Brittan is encouraging NHS England and the Secretary of State for Health to consider a change in the rules restricting NHS Trusts from owning any corporate entities such as limited companies, as a way of boosting the likely effectiveness of Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

Currently, NHS Improvement (as NHS Trusts' regulator) has taken the view that NHS Trusts are not allowed to enter into corporate vehicles, whereas Foundation Trusts can do so.

This could block NHS Trusts from creating shared service companies or participating in Accountable Care Organisations as part of an STP.  The sharing of services is potentially a key part of the kind of integration across health, care and other public services that STPs are designed to create.

The 44 STP footprints across England and Wales need to submit their final STP plans to NHS England by 21 October.

Bevan Brittan partner David Owens explained: “In some STP areas, we are seeing plans to share services or merge back offices between different service functions.  One of the most effective ways of doing this is to create a new corporate entity for that service, of which all parties have joint ownership as shareholders.  But NHS Trusts are not allowed to do this. Similarly the rule restricts the ability of NHS Trusts to participate in corporate ACOs.

“I believe it would be very worthwhile for NHS England to consider changing the rules in this respect.  The Secretary of State could confer the power on NHS Trusts, through a statutory instrument.

“Doing this would, I believe, considerably enhance the prospects of STPs being a success.  Given that STPs are at the heart of the future strategy for the NHS, this is an important area to address.”