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Integration of care belongs at heart of NHS reform

King’s fund says White Paper is a great opportunity to integrate care better

Louise Prime

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The NHS White Paper provides a golden opportunity to encourage better integration of care and improve outcomes for patients, the King’s Fund has declared – and it warns that the opportunity should not be allowed to go to waste.

The charity argues in its report Clinical and service integration: The route to improved outcomes that clinical and service integration should remain at the centre of health service reform and must not be hampered by problems with funding and regulation.

The authors Natasha Curry and Chris Ham say that GP consortia should be at the forefront of the push for integration. They point out that GP commissioners, because they will have control over budgets, are in a good position to meet patients’ needs and provide a wide range of services, but that this must be done both transparently and in collaboration with others.

They use UK and international examples to show how greater integration of primary and secondary health care, and of health and social care, improve concrete outcomes as well as patients’ experience.

One such example is Torbay, which now has the lowest use of hospital bed days in the region, and where patients rate their experience more highly than in any other part of the south west. This success follows the establishment of integrated teams to help steer patients through the maze of health and social care agencies, and then the creation of Torbay Care Trust which is an integrated care organisation.

Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: “We know that greater integration of care can be better for patients – their experience of the health service is more positive and their outcomes improve. As such, the work that has been done to achieve closer integration in the NHS should continue.

“While there is no doubt that it will be challenging to make sure that competition and integration work alongside each other to deliver the right benefits for patients, it should not prove an impossible task. Both have an important role to play in the new system.”

The Nuffield Trust made a similar plea for integration in its own report released earlier this autumn.

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