Ensuring ICS legislation drives partnerships

A new think piece produced by Cllr Tim Swift, Rob Webster and Robin Tuddenham has detailed their thoughts on new NHS legislation that will place integrated care systems (ICS) on statutory footing.

The authors—all three a part of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership ICS—say they welcome the government’s proposals and want the future model to work, but in order for it to do so it must have a “core overriding focus on health inequalities and the wellbeing of our population.”

In March 2020, the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership published a Five-Year Plan that outlined their proposal surrounding better health and wellbeing for everyone. This was further supported by the launch of their Improving Population Health Annual Report in December 2020. As they note in their think piece, the authors approached both reports with the idea that the NHS is “one chapter in a bigger story” that “encompasses the wider detriments of health” and “harnesses the contribution of all.” The Partnership recognises that work in areas such as violence reduction, suicide prevention, reducing obesity, immunisation and preventing diabetes are key to improving the health of the public.

With regards to the benefits of an ICS, the piece noted that though current legal framework can be “clunky,” they are proud to have secured successful political engagement that is supported by “system assurance and weekly sector lead meetings.” They noted that the way they work has also allowed them greater transparency, with meetings held in public. Due to this, they also acknowledged that the approach offers clear accountability and shared responsibility for system-wide working.

The authors have expressed a desire to see further collaborative action from the government itself, not only within the Department of Health and Social Care, but from “all departments.” They also expressed caution that the development of ICS must avoid resembling Strategic Health Authorities.

“We must avoid any temptation for ICS to be NHS organisations that look and feel like old Strategic Health Authorities. That would waste the opportunity we have to tackle the issues that face people today, built from individuals, neighbourhoods, places and systems. One where partners work to a shared agenda based on things that matter to local people in their local context. 

“It will be essential that placing ICSs on a statutory footing is accompanied by the flexibility to ensure that at place level there is a strong public voice and that we are able to retain and develop strong commissioning leadership, capacity and skills.”