Ministers ‘must prioritise integration of health and social care’

5 Jan 12
Successful integration of health and social care requires a strong lead from the government, according to two health think-tanks.

By Nick Mann | 5 January 2012

Successful integration of health and social care requires a strong lead from the government, according to two health think-tanks.

Hospital ward

In a report published today, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust said that integrating care should be given the same priority over the next decade as reducing waiting times was given in the previous ten years. They called on the government to set a ‘clear, ambitious and measurable goal’.

Efforts to bring the separate hospital care and local authority social care systems closer together have been taking place for some time. But it is understood that Prime Minister David Cameron has now told Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to formally merge the two areas to save money and improve patient care.

The think-tanks argue that this is essential to meet the needs of an ageing population. Their report, Integrated care for patients and populations: improving outcomes by working together, says  this would involve moving away from acute care towards prevention and self-care, as well as ensuring more consistent standards of primary care.

Setting a goal similar to that used to bring down waiting times would help to embed this approach across health and social care systems over the next five to ten years, they explained.

‘Government policy should be founded on a clear, ambitious and measurable goal to improve the experience of patients and service users and to be delivered by a defined date,’ the report said.

‘This goal would serve a similar purpose to the aim of delivering a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for patients receiving hospital care.’

The Department of Health is urged to make a ‘compelling case’ for change and to create an environment where integrating care is a ‘must do’ for both the NHS and local authorities.

This, the report said, was ‘essential’ to overcome the current NHS management culture which can discourage innovation and risk.

Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘Integrated care can be delivered without further legislative change or structural upheaval and would be embraced by the professions and NHS staff.

‘It is time to move from pockets of good practice to ensure it is a must-do priority and make it the core business of everyone involved in health and social care.’

Jennifer Dixon, director of the Nuffield Trust, added that the change needed was ‘less about extra spending and more about removing rigidities in the system and encouraging creativity’.

Care services minister Paul Burstow noted that integrated care was one of four areas the body charged with leading the government’s health reforms, the NHS Future Forum, had been asked to focus on.

‘Our ambition for the NHS and social care is a simple one – to achieve better results for people and carers. So our priority is to orientate the whole system around patients, service users and carers through our Outcomes Framework,’ he said.

‘We have already strengthened our plans following the first NHS Future Forum report to ensure integrated working at every level to make sure people get the care and support they need at the right time and right place.’


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