There is much to learn from the pandemic in both our health and social care systems – and the Government has begun to look long-term in releasing its health and care White Paper, while setting out an aspiration to release its long-awaited social care counterpart in 2021.
The White Paper contains plenty for local government to be encouraged by.
There is a clear emphasis on the need to better integrate local health and care. In practice, this has been happening for several years, but further enablers are welcome.
Making integrated care systems aligned with local government boundaries is a hugely positive step, one which the County Councils’ Network (CCN) has advocated.
Greater coterminousity with social care and public health authorities will maximise collaborative efforts and hopefully help ensure councils become equal partners in these systems.
Placing a duty to collaborate between the NHS and councils is the parity of esteem that CCN has been calling for, as outlined in our recent report with Newton.
That report set out a blueprint showing the art of the possible in fully-integrated local care systems which put the individual first.
This model of delivering local care envisions a system where NHS, health providers, and councils work together more closely – and the health White Paper provides a solid basis for this.
The word local is crucial. It is only through putting councils in the driving seat to encourage localised system reform that the full benefits of the model could be achieved.
I would like to end on a word of caution. While the conjecture around population health outcomes and closer integration with health and care is promising, the White Paper confirms the Government intends to reform public health and gives the health secretary power to take on specific functions.
The transfer of public health to local authorities as part of the 2012 reforms has been a huge success as evidenced by the local response to the pandemic. Many of the reforms will now be unwound, but the responsibility for public health should be the one that remains untouched.
Cllr David Fothergill is health and social care spokesperson for the CCN