Monday, 15 September 2014

Time for an open debate on the future of health and care

In a recent HSJ article, Sir John Oldham was reported as calling on politicians to immediately begin a public debate on the future of funding for health and care services.  To turn up the volume to very loud, there has this week been an unprecedented coming together of health leaders booming for this debate to take place now, in support of the 2015 Challenge Manifesto.

Sir John led an independent commission on whole person care for the Labour Party, which was published in February this year. One of its recommendations was the commissioning of an “independent national conversation”, backed by all political parties that would “recognise the need for a longer term agreement with the people of the country on what health and social care should be, how and where it is delivered, and how it should be paid for”.

The debate has been sparked further by Kate Barker who recently published a report as part of the King’s Fund commission on the future of health and social care, calling for a major expansion of free social care and for councils’ care budgets to be pooled with a “significant” proportion of the NHS budget.

HSJ quoted Sir John as saying: “[the debate] should start now. There’s been enough consensus [about the funding problem].

“We need to make decisions that inevitably this side of an election politicians will be reluctant to [make]. But we need to start that conversation.”

While I wholeheartedly agree with Sir John Oldham's comments, and with the whole person care commission which is informing our strategy, I wonder if he heard the echo of his words after he made his comments? 

I don't think politicians are going to start this debate, however I think the public would welcome it.  They know we have financial challenges and are intelligent and responsible enough to help political leaders make informed judgements on how to address this growing problem. 

Large scale reorganisation to create health and social care organisations would become the project for the next two to five years. The project for the next decade needs to be care outside of hospital, psychologically minded care (vastly underestimated) and promoting self-care and behaviour change in how health is provided. 

This will need driving by policies that act as incentives for care in the community and boldly state hospitals are not health, health is in the communities, some of whom on occasion need hospital care. 

The approach in Tameside is the closest I have seen that is trying to create an integrated care organisation. The initiative is very positive, bold and aims to focus on care outside of hospital and achieve an affordable, coherent health and social care offer. In reality, I still think this will be a number of partners working together under the umbrella of an Integrated Care Organisation (ICO).  

Achieving one clean organisation will be challenging and I believe will always require partners who can make a particular contribution in the mix somewhere. However, initiatives like this should be applauded for taking an open and transparent approach to tackling national issues at a local level. 

However, as I said at the beginning, this debate should be happening at a national and political level.  My concern without the national debate is that we will drift into making reorganisation the goal, and if we do that becomes the project.  

You can shuffle the deck chairs of management but you won't get real change until we steer a very different course for health and social care for the coming decade.

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