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A fundamental rethink of how healthcare should be organised and provided is now necessary if we are to ensure the long-term sustainability of Health and Social services, and meet the increased demand now being faced on our healthcare system, on all fronts. Demand has increased exponentially in recent years, due in some part to the success and advances made in modern medicine. People now live much longer than in previous years, there is a better understanding of disease aetiology and, as such ageing patients live with varying degrees of quality of life, with one or multiple long term health conditions. With increased specialisation and new options for diagnosis, treatment and care, these successes make healthcare much more complex and therefore more costly than ever before. Despite these successes more coordination of care is needed, not only between Primary and Secondary healthcare services, but between Health and Social services.
Pressure on the healthcare system arises in the form of sub-optimal care, avoidable ill health, inappropriate use of care and services, duplication and waste. These factors need scrutinizing and improving to ease unnecessary burdens. They are a result of how services have historically been set up, how the budgets have been divided and how care is organised across Health and Social care boundaries. If we were to consider only healthcare, then Primary and Secondary Care have both been treated as separate branches of one system and the many structures, governance and management arrangements that have developed across each branch have done so in silo. ‘The left arm doesn’t always talk to the right arm’. Now Introduce Social care into the equation, and once again the differences in their structures, governance and management arrangements become even more apparent. In the past little thought, if any, has been given in relation to the impact that these services have on one another. Often there has been no risk assessment of the impact changes to one service will have on the other, especially if it crosses professional boundaries. This is a fundamental design flaw and one which must be addressed if we aim to provide services that focus on quality, are less fragmented and have improved channels of communication that enhance care.

There have been many attempts in the past to integrate services, none of which have yielded any lasting and positive results. The fact that previous attempts have failed will act as a significant barrier to reform and this ‘elephant in the room’ will need to be addressed by Leaders and Clinical staff before any redesign work can proceed. Other barriers to Integration include:

– Separate budgets in key care areas, for example, between Primary and Secondary care, and between budgets for Health and Social care.

– Institutional separation between Primary Care – independent small businesses generally owned by GPs, Secondary Care – entities owned by the NHS, and Social Services – owned or commissioned by local authorities.

– Professional separation between the staff working in all three domains, resulting in different cultures, pensions and contracts.

– Lack of integrated data and information systems between major care providers.

– Repeated reforms of NHS commissioning bodies that have disrupted efforts to develop effective joint commissioning.

The approach considered by the vast majority of professionals as now being able to deliver on integrated care, is through the creation of Integrated Care Organisations. Various models of the Integrated Care Organisation are now being piloted across England, with their primary goal being to improve coordination of care, prevent avoidable ill health and provide more cost effective services.

So, why then is this approach more likely to deliver than previously explored approaches? The driver for change now centres on an unsustainable system and finally the realisation that if Organisations continue to work in silo, they will just bankrupt each other. Health and social care therefore need to come together and look at the system as a whole and work out how to spend the whole system budget collectively to create a sustainable system. This is driven out of the fact that the system was designed to cure ill health, not manage long term disease.

Now that leaders finally agree that they need to work this way, we are in a much better position than in previous years to design a new integrated model of care. The blockers to this work can also be identified and this is where ICOs are especially useful, as they facilitate the removal of blockers, especially when these are people working for and within different organisations. With this in mind, there is a real potential that the use of expensive hospital services will be reduced by redesign of current services. Collaboration provides the opportunity to overcome the fragmented responsibility for the commissioning and provision of care in the NHS – all with the patient at the centre of the chosen model.

The various models of these Organisations include:

– Networks of provider organisations operating under a single, integrated budget (‘virtual integration’).

– Organisational mergers (‘real’ integration) to bring together different care sectors (acute trust ownership of GP services, for example).

– Integrated commissioner–provider organisations that combine commissioning care for a designated population with the provision of some or all of these services.

This is an exciting time for many working in Primary Care and Social services, as Secondary Care has in the main, always been the priority for funding and development. Whilst it is still too early to assess the impact that these Organisations will have, never has there been more of an exciting opportunity to be involved in improvement work that will promote whole system change. One can only hope that GPs are freed up from some of their clinical commitments so as to collaborate on the best possible designs for patients. Otherwise, a potential pitfall is they will be under represented and whichever model is introduced will be rebuffed through fear that it is another model imposed by the hierarchy and professionals feel forced rather than engaged and empowered.

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