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Health and care integration: right in principle but a challenge to deliver

9172900_sHealth and care integration is right in principle but it will take more than moving the managerial deck chairs around to deliver quality care.

I took a day away from the Scottish TUC congress in Dundee to make a day trip to Brighton to speak in panel discussion on health and care integration at the UNISON UK health conference. I was giving the Scottish perspective on what is a similar challenge across the UK.

The context for integration is pretty similar across the UK. Demographic change is even more acute in Scotland with 25% of the population over 65 by 2035 and an 80% increase in the over 80s. Yesterday’s FT had an interesting UK Statistic reporting that centenarians will grow from 14,000 in 2013 to 111,000 in 2037. It will at least keep the Queen busy. Their overall message was let’s embrace longevity, it’s a good thing. That said, we can’t ignore the financial pressures that have resulted, in social care at least, in a race to the bottom as UNISON Scotland’s Time to Care report highlights.

There have been efforts to promote care integration since the ‘joint finance’ initiative in the 1970s, with admittedly limited success. An Audit Scotland report found few examples of effective joint planning. The long waits for patient discharge have largely gone, but 837 patients are still in Scottish hospitals who should not be. That’s the equivalent of the Southern General Hospital. The Scottish public service model, based on collaboration not marketisation, should enable joint working, but as the Christie Commission found this hasn’t always been achieved.

The new integration model is outlined in the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Act, to be implemented in April next year. This permits two broad models. Lead agency and body corporate bring in councils and health boards together in Health & Social Care Partnerships. Everywhere other than Highland are likely to go for the body corporate model. They will be run by an Integration Joint Board with at least 3 council and 3 Health board members plus non-voting members from the voluntary sector, trade unions and patient groups. Each Board has to develop integration plan (services, budgets) and a three year Strategic Plan. There will also be Locality Planning Groups below council level. All of these plans have to approved by minister who has extensive powers and will set national outcomes and lead an accountability process. No staff will transfer to the new bodies, they will remain employed by councils and health boards.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the less prescriptive model than first envisaged, but remains concerned about the extensive ministerial powers that could be another force for centralisation. International studies show that local implementation is the key to successful integration. The staffing provisions are minimal, but after our Bill lobby a partnership group has been established to address workforce issues.

Outsourcing remains a concern as home care is the most outsourced public service Scotland and we don’t want to see that extended any further – certainly not into NHS provision. The financial provisions in the Act are weak with little indication of how growing care needs are to be funded. The savings identified in the Christie report on unplanned admissions have already been absorbed into rising, not reducing NHS bed requirements. I would also argue that GPs are weakly integrated into new system and they can be a big driver for admissions to hospital.

Finally, for the future more work is needed on the detailed secondary legislation and local plans. UNISON’s  short term focus is on effective joint branch working and developing skills. The industrial relations cultures in health and local government are also very different.

In the longer term, I argued that we need to address three key care issues. Improve the social care workforce as set out in the UNISON Ethical Care Charter. Find a way of funding care at the level we are going to need. And develop a new social contract that sets out the responsibilities of the state and the citizen. Vague concepts like co-production and asset based approaches need more definition.

This was a very interesting debate, even if I struggle with the bewildering acronyms the English NHS has imposed on itself with multiple types of care integration and privatisation. As always when I hear about NHS England, I am grateful for devolution and the decisions a Scottish Labour government took to dismantle marketisation.

Image credit: alphababy / 123RF Stock Photo

One Comment

  1. David Ellis says:

    Health and Care integration is nothing but the vehicle through which New Labour intends to start charging for health services at the point of delivery to the benefit of the private providers of these services.

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