Norman Lamb writes … The start of a revolution in joined-up care

Back in May, I wrote on Lib Dem Voice, about the launch of a programme of “Integration Pioneers” to drive forward the revolution in joined-up care that is desperately needed across the NHS and social care.

On Friday, I announced the final outcome of a rigorous process to select the very best leaders in integrated care. A panel of experts, including some of the global leaders in integrated care, scrutinised the bids. Now, 14 Pioneers spread across England covering rural and urban areas will lead a movement of change joining up a horribly fragmented system which too often let’s patients down. We received a massive interest in the programme, with 99 separate regions applying to take part. There is pent up energy out there – dedicated professionals and local leaders wanting to do things in a more rational way putting a much greater focus on preventing ill health and caring for those who live for many years with chronic conditions in a much better way.

The Pioneers programme will go hand-in-hand with the £3.8 billion health and care transformation fund that was announced by the Chancellor in the Spending Review earlier this year.  This new pool of money for shared commissioning of health and care services will provide a significant, and immediate, financial incentive to deliver joined-up care in every part of the country.

The 14 Pioneers will be supported by a centre of excellence, based in NHS Improving Quality, which will help to remove barriers to integrated care. The aim is that the Pioneers will spearhead change across the country, sharing and developing good practice.  As all areas develop their plans for joining up care – which they will have to produce in order to access their share of the £3.8 billion transformation fund – they will be able to look to the Pioneers for guidance about what works in delivering better care for patients.

Politicians have been talking for years about creating a more integrated health and care system, one which is designed around patients rather than organisations.  As a Liberal Democrat I feel very strongly that the key to achieving this must be in enabling local areas to find approaches that work for them, rather than trying to impose a single template from Whitehall.  The integration pioneers programme embraces the diversity of approaches that can help deliver better care.  We want to develop a range of tried and tested methods, with practical information about how to make them work.

Some Pioneers will demonstrate the potential value of bringing mental and physical health together again. The current institutional divide makes no sense from the patient’s point of view. In Torbay mental health care will be available within general practice.

Other Pioneers, such as Cornwall and Leeds, show the enormous value of building much closer links with local community organisations combating the misery of loneliness which blights so many lives.

When I visited Greenwich last Wednesday and talked to two particular patients who had benefited from excellent, joined up care, I was struck by how much it had meant to them. Two very different cases, but both Maureen and Tom talked so positively about how the care they had received had improved their lives. In Greenwich they have managed to avoid 2,000 hospital admissions since they started this approach 2 1/2 years ago.

At its heart, this is about better care. At the moment, too many people fall through the gaps in our health and care system, often with a devastating effect on their ability to get on with their lives.  To deliver great care, and make limited resources go further, we need to create a more joined-up modern health and care system.  Yesterday’s announcement is a major step towards achieving that.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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