Integrated care leaders must keep up the momentum
Despite news that the deadline for integrated care systems may slip, and the spectre of another Covid winter, health and social care leaders must keep up momentum says John Copps
After years of talking about it, including umpteen rounds of planning, on the horizon is the prospect of local areas finally taking the step to become integrated care systems. The current effort going into this change is perhaps only matched by the heroic response of the NHS and local government to the Covid crisis.
But winter is coming, and with it the NHS and local government will be buffeted by a range of forces, potentially threatening progress.
In the face of these challenges, health and social care leaders must stand firm: it is vital that the energy and effort spent on achieving integrated care is maintained.
Delay to legislation
At the end of November, the HSJ reported that the Integrated Care System (‘ICS’) go-live date may be delayed by six months according to a leaked paper from NHS England. Go live is scheduled for 1 April 2022.
The paper set out four scenarios, indicating either a one, three or six months delay, with a decision set to be confirmed by mid-January. The rational for delay is the stuttering progress of the new Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament. As we commented back in July, it was always looking unlikely that it would make the deadline of April.
The process of law-making is part of this but there are also controversial parts of the proposed legislation. The social care cap and mooted new powers for the Secretary of State are the most obvious.
Building on consensus
Leaving the Bill itself aside, there is strong momentum behind integration and general consensus that it is the right thing to do. Only six of the 44 ICSs are yet to announce leaders, the basic architecture of ‘system, place and neighbourhood’ is now becoming common currency, and it appears there is no going back for NHS commissioning.
On the broad direction of travel – more joined up working and a system based on collaboration rather than competition – there are few detractors as it builds on the spirit of 2014’s Five Year Forward View and the vision of 2019’s Long Term Plan. The argument for change has been won.
The imperative for integration is not going away, no matter how long it takes for the Bill to pass into law.
That is why it is crucial that momentum on integration is maintained. The only health and social care services fit for the twenty-first century are integrated health and social care services.
Of course public services are also battling on other fronts. The emergence of the Omicron variant adds another factor to what is sure to be a challenging winter. But our experience of previous waves of the pandemic only adds weight to the case for integration, showing how important joined up services are.
All this means that health and social care leaders must redouble their efforts and continue the march forward to integrated care – and with it a better service for patients and services users. For this, they deserve all our support.
Read more about Mutual Ventures’ work on integrated care here.