The Health and Social Care Committee has called on the Government to solidify its integrated care plans and introduce primary legislation to safeguard future funding and ensure confidence is instilled into the system. These are just some of the conclusions reached in a comprehensive report on Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems.
It remains to be seen whether the Government will be able to deliver on these proposals, when the complexities of an ever-changing NHS show no signs of abating.
The inquest began as the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships inquiry before the 2017 General Election dissolved the Committee. It later had its scope widened to accommodate investigation into changes pertaining to Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and Accountable Care Organisations (ACO).
Drawing from evidence given, the Committee is adamant that the Government must improve on how they communicate NHS reforms to the public, noting that up to this point, understanding of important developments like the rollout of Sustainability & Transformation Plans (STP) had been impeded by poor communication and “a confusing acronym spaghetti of changing titles and terminology, poorly understood even by those working in the system.” (Don’t we know it!)
This is particularly important considering the sensitivities around the proposed ACO contract – currently in limbo as NHS England fights off two judicial reviews. Those who lose sleep over the concern that ACOs in England will lead to widespread privatisation à la United States, will be reassured by the Committee’s findings that this is highly unlikely to transpire.
But Dr Sarah Wollaston MP (Chair) and her team insist that the Government must do better in communicating this, and while they’re at it, make primary legislative changes to reflect any service change, instead of chipping away at the 2012 Health and Social Care Act from behind the curtain.
The Committee has also urged the to Government press on with its proposed long-term funding settlement – a late announcement by the Prime Minister to the Liaison Committee down the corridor which no doubt blindsided the first draft of this report.
The big question now is who will budge first between Health and Social Care Secretary, Jeremy Hunt and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. It is rumoured that Hunt wants to see a 4%-a-year budget increase over a 10-year period – this is a tall order for the naturally restrained HM Treasury.
The long-term funding settlement will, in theory, assist the development of the structures NHS England are constructing. The Committee agrees, and this is a positive starting point. But for success to be realised, there needs to be cross-party agreement. In Decideum’s jointly run IPPR conference in January, Labour Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth MP seemed to pour cold water on any potential consensus.
Will the now longest serving Health Secretary pull something out of the bag against all odds? A fiery four weeks awaits us before politicians all pack up for the holidays.