On 9 February 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care (“DHSC”) published a new integration white paper. The aim is for patients to receive better more coordinated care under new plans announced to improve links between health and social care. The integration white paper aims to bring the NHS and local government closer together in order to improve care for all and improve value for money.
Underpinning this, are plans which will aim to ensure people receive the right care in the right place at the right time. The DHSC have claimed that joining up services will help deliver a world-leading health and social care system working together as part of the wider reform and recovery agenda.
Currently, despite the best efforts of staff, the current system means that too often patients find themselves having to navigate complex and disjointed systems. Individuals with multiple conditions can be left feeling frustrated at having to repeatedly explain their needs to multiple different organisations, while others can end up facing delayed discharge because the NHS and local authorities have different priorities and work in a way that is not joined up as it could be.
The white paper has outlined ways in which the health and care systems will draw on resources and skills across the NHS and local government to better meet the needs of communities including the following:
- Better transparency and choice – if local authorities and the NHS share data and are more transparent about their performance, the local population will be able to see how health and care services are performing in their area and make informed decisions on this.
- More personalised care – linking GPs with wider forms of community support, such as social prescribing. It would allow care to be more personalised which would in turn help to reduce people needing to have expensive, invasive medical treatment.
- Earlier intervention – greater integration will help people to access the right services at the right time, including specialist services which could mean earlier intervention that could prevent diseases from progressing and reduce the need for invasive and expensive interventions.
- Clear communication – integration will mean that patients have a single digital care record so they can book appointments, order prescriptions, communicate with their providers on one platform whilst those involved in delivering health and care services can access a patient’s latest information. This would ensure patients are not repeating themselves and professionals will have the information readily available.
- Improved NHS data sharing – this would allow for improved access to social care services by allowing local authorities to access all NHS data to make decisions about access to social care.
- Better NHS support to care homes – integration between hospitals and social care would mean more specialist support so that care home residents could be treated before they get unwell and avoid having to go to hospital.
- Co-ordinated services – better integration across health and care will reduce the burden on people to have to coordinate between different hospital specialists, GPs, social care and local authority services themselves.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
“The pandemic highlighted what our fantastic NHS and local government can achieve when they work together. We now want to build on these successes, joining up health and social care even more to deliver the best possible care – whether you want to see a GP quickly or live independently with dementia. These plans will ensure no patient falls between the gap.”
This was echoed by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid who said:
“Better integration is vital to stop people falling into the gaps between health and social care. Ensuring our health and care systems work in unison will mean we can support hardworking staff, provide better care to patients and deliver value for the taxpayer.”
The integration white paper is the next step in delivering the Government’s promise of a health and social care system fit for the future. It builds on both the Health and Social Care Bill and the ‘People at the Heart of Care’ white paper which set out a 10-year vision for social care funded through the Health and Care Levy.