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Designing Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) with the populations’ needs at the forefront

First, Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) – it’s the entity responsible for funding the care and support people need through a joined ecosystem of local councils, the NHS, and other partners. In short, ICSs intertwine health and social care to create a seamless experience for the individual whilst reducing the strain on service providers. Receiving Royal Assent on 28th April 2022,  the Health and Care Bill puts ICSs on a statutory footing and creates integrated care boards (ICBs) as new NHS bodies. To allow enough time for the bill to clear parliament, a new target date of 1st July 2022 was agreed upon for the new statutory arrangements to take effect and ICBs to be legally and operationally established.

Before ICSs, the health and social care constituents had a division between services. This led to one core issue –   individuals were frequently experiencing disjointed care. 

Implementing ICSs will remove traditional divisions between; hospitals and community services, physical and mental health, plus the NHS and council services.

Think of ICSs as strengthening existing partnerships to link up health and social care, reaching beyond the NHS to local councils and other partners. Working in coherence will ensure service users experience seamless and stress-free care whilst providing the potential to drive improvements in population health and tackle inequalities.

By aligning the NHS provision and Local Authority social care services, we’ll see the introduction of multiple benefits that impact individuals, their representatives and service providers.

Typically, a mass crisis leads to a mass change in any system. Over the last 70 years, the resource structure has mainly remained the same, despite considerable population, technological, and economic transformations. This has led to our current fragmented system meaning poorer outcomes for individuals and growing inefficiencies.

So, this is where ICSs step in. Culturally, ICSs will bridge the gap between all health and social care organisations by implementing a single system that’s shared to improve the collaboration between providers. With a reduction in wasted effort, reduced duplication, improved transactions and a joined-up leadership. This change should, in principle,  make the whole process much easier for all.

ICSs will be tasked with successfully meeting future demands in financially challenging times whilst supporting our overworked and highly pressured health and care workforce. This will require strategic leadership and meaningful partnerships.

ICSs will oversee the NHS, local councils, social care providers, voluntary and community organisations, social enterprises, and broader partners who come together to deliver the best interests to residents in their specific area.

ICSs aim to deliver financial and operational efficiencies through a system that pools knowledge, expertise, and resources. Putting a focus on preventative measures and health inequalities, service providers will have the opportunity to upskill and harness the strengths of a multi-skilled workforce. Doing so will help them deliver a range of health and social care tasks rather than relying on specialities and traditional roles.

Consistency is essential to effective population health management. We must strive for the same level of detailed diagnosis, support and delivery regardless of a patient’s location, needs, or other environments at play.

The benefits of a consistent approach to the delivery of services will be harnessed by ICSs that focus on building meaningful partnerships and work collaboratively to integrate. Details will be clearer, processes will be streamlined, communication between partners will be much more efficient, and the result will be improved outcomes for the populations they serve.

With a lack of communication between health and care organisations, both service providers and individuals are likely to experience the ricochet of poor collaboration and transparency between health and social care. Looking beyond traditional organisational boundaries to address population health, health inequalities and the broader determinants of health, ICSs will offer service providers the headspace and action to analyse complex, long-term issues that require integrated solutions to succeed.

A key vision for ICSs is that decisions on how services are arranged will be made with location firmly in mind. This will mean that for most people, their needs will be met in their hometown or where they work.

As the integration process of ICSs begins to roll out, we’re spotlighting possible challenges on the horizon, so you can be prepared to tackle and overcome them seamlessly.

Even though the NHS is one of the largest employers globally and spends 65% of its budget on its most important asset, its workforce, there is no doubt that its workforce is under unprecedented pressure. The UK is very much below average in the number of nurses and doctors per head of population, and 49% of nurses do not think that there are enough staff in place for them to work effectively. This has a significant knock-on effect on service providers and what they can do. There are genuine worries about how the UK health service can recruit and retain staff, both in the long and short term. To tackle the shortage of resources, the NHS has placed the investment in its workforce as a top priority on their ‘2022/23 priorities and operational planning guidance‘.

Ineffective collaboration across organisations can result in limited resources, poorly functioning digital systems, absence of finance coordination, conflicting demands and team relationships. ICSs should enable care providers to develop facilities to support one another in their dedicated teams. ICSs can be the driving force to overcome recently felt hurdles by re-igniting the togetherness, motivation and realignment of information.

Before the pandemic, there were already 4.43 million people on a waiting list for health and social care. The latest figures show over 6 million people waiting for treatment – the ‘visible backlog’. However, the shutdown of most non-Covid-19 services, combined with changes in patient behaviour, has created a growing ‘hidden backlog’. These people need care. However, they have either not yet presented or had their referrals delayed or cancelled.

Now more than ever, communication is critical. As ICSs establish, providers should aim for the ability to access all data from one digital interface allowing a seamless workflow and an unfragmented process.

Health and social care providers have felt a whirlwind of emotions, pressures and confusion during the last two years.

As we look into the future, the implementation of ICSs aims to re-establish seamless transparency across health and social care to create a workforce that’s aligned and supports one another to deliver their passion for care.

Working with partners over the last 40 years, UB Healthcare has successfully supported integrating health and social care service delivery and transformation across multiple systems. Working collaboratively in meaningful partnerships to deliver innovative, cost-effective management and process solutions. UB Healthcare clients reap the benefits of strategic insight and best practices. By enabling departments to align and integrate, UB healthcare empowers its clients to deliver the best care outcomes for their population.

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