Somerset health and social care merger offers template for Labour reform

A CCG and a local council in south-west England plan to merge health and social care to save £20m over the next decade, in a move that could provide a template for Labour NHS reform plans.

Dr Mary Backhouse: integration plans for Somerset
Dr Mary Backhouse: integration plans for Somerset

Shadow care minister Liz Kendall set out plans on Thursday to cut public sector costs by bringing health and social care closer together if Labour wins the 2015 general election.

Integration in North Somerset could take place from September next year, after the area’s CCG and council bid for a £670,000 grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

North Somerset CCG chief clinical officer Dr Mary Backhouse said: ‘It is far too early to speculate about what our respective organisations will look like in the future.

‘At the moment we are focusing on developing a strong bid for the grant but we will talk more to our members, staff, partners and the public about the benefits fully integrated commissioning could bring.’

Integration next logical step

Leader of North Somerset Council Nigel Ashton said: ‘We already have a good track record of working well together as organisations, so exploring further opportunities to integrate services is the next logical step.’

North Somerset Council and the CCG are also seeking permission to divert £450,000 of capital funding to help pay for the integration process.

In a speech on Thursday, Ms Kendall said joining up health and social care was now an ‘essential’ reform for the NHS.

‘NHS and social care services must be fully joined up so people don’t have to battle different parts of the system and to reduce waste and inefficiency,’ she said.

‘We have got to end the false divide between the NHS and social care once and for all. Joining up local NHS and care budgets in every area would create the potential for truly integrated care, including one point of contact, one care co-ordinator and one team to meet all of a person’s care and support needs.’

Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson said: ‘I definitely think we can deliver better care if we get rid of the barriers and work more effectively together.’

Debate over funding

But he warned that joining up health and social care would not solve funding problems across health and social care at a stroke.

‘It’s not just GPs who are under pressure. Look at A&E, waiting times – there is huge pressure on the system. Local authorities are all saying they have had budgets cut and have less money – to say putting funding in a single pot will solve all the problems, it isn’t going to work.

‘Even if you sort out problems at the boundary between health and social care, demand will keep on rising with the ageing population.

‘We need to have a debate as nation about how much we are prepared to resource these services.’

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