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by Jennifer Berger 8th May, 2018

Confused by integrated care? Here’s why you should engage

Integrated care is back on policy tables. Of course, it never really went away – the Government just toyed with the concept of ‘accountable care’ for a time, until accusations of backdoor privatisation, two judicial reviews on accountable care contracts and sustained questioning from MPs pushed the Department of Health and Social Care to reconsider its choice of terminology.

Terminology has never been a key strength of integrated care – Integrated Care Systems, Integrated Care Partnerships, Accountable Care Organisations, Multi-speciality Providers, Health and Care Partnerships, Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (or is it plans?) – are all enough to make anyone confused. If you are a business or charity it may be even harder to determine what it may mean for you.

At the heart of the agenda is a simple concept: Integrated Care Systems are working on plans to enable providers to collaborate to improve health and care for an area’s population. On the ground this means complex collaborations between local authorities, public health, primary, secondary, community, mental health and social care leaders to figure out what care works best for diverse communities, neighbourhoods and demographics.

There are ten Integrated Care Systems in England, ranging in size from the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (2.8million people) to Blackpool and Fylde Coast (0.3million people). Leaderships of these new devolved systems vary as well, from local authority chiefs, acute trust executives and Commissioners to former NHS officials and civil servants.

And these ten are just the beginning, NHS England is keen to see more Integrated Care Systems emerge out of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, despite them having no legislative basis. There are valid concerns about what this means for regulation and accountability of the systems and the partnerships within them.

There are also big questions regarding how these systems will be funded. Greater Manchester benefited from funding from the devolution deal, but this isn’t an option for all areas. This summer’s health and care funding settlement may support Integrated Care Systems – but with both NHS front line services and local authorities crying out for care funding – it may be difficult for the Government to justify handing over money to intangible initiatives which may not show patient outcomes for some time.

Opportunities for businesses and the third sector

Despite its challenges, integrated care offers opportunities for far more than just the health and care sector:

Information sharing: Coordinating care for diverse populations will demand secure and sophisticated data collection and sharing methods. There is a big role for technology businesses to play in helping providers collaborate and share best practice across systems.

Workforce: Integrated Care Systems will need to recruit and develop a skilled and committed workforce at all levels. They will need to involve schools, further and higher education institutions, apprenticeship providers and staffing agencies to develop a sustainable talent pipeline – especially with Brexit around the corner.

Infrastructure: For integration to work, the providers involved need to be supported by high-quality infrastructure – from the roads linking GPs, hospitals and social care provision, to housing needed to ensure staff are incentivised to work in the area, to the IT and telecoms systems required to facilitate communication between providers within the Integrated Care System, and between providers and patients.

Social care provision: How to provide for our ageing society and the rise in people living longer with complex needs will be high on the minds of system leaders. With support services for these demographics not keeping up with demand and dwindling local authority funding, there is an opportunity for innovative organisations working in social care housing, social prescribing and assistive technology to help integrated care providers keep this population in the community, rather than in hospital.

Patient engagement: One of the greatest conundrums facing Integrated Care Systems is how to communicate and engage the public. There is a huge opportunity for businesses and charities to help leaders understand their population’s needs and bring about patient engagement in their own health and care.

Most of all, the lack of a blueprint for integrated care means that systems are able to innovate and try out new ways to work with business and the third sector to deliver care. What this also means is that more and more decision-making will be devolved away from central government and NHS arms-length bodies towards busy Integrated Care System leaders – opening up a whole new network of stakeholders for service and product providers to engage with.

If you need help engaging with the integrated care process, please contact jennifer@gkstrategy.com

See more articles by Jennifer Berger