HATS Group CEO Henry Bilinski discusses the government’s decision to devolve authority over major healthcare issues to London councils.
In most parts of the UK, NHS facilities such as hospitals and council-funded care services are financed and managed separately. However, the government has committed itself to integrating NHS health services with council-operated care services for the elderly, disabled and long-term ill.
Whitehall has started launching “health devolution” deals to integrate health and social care on a local level. The first of these schemes was launched in Greater Manchester in 2014. It has already seen NHS organisations in the area join forces with local councils to take joint control of the region’s £6 billion health budget.
Extension to London
The Independent recently reported that the initiative has now been extended to London. UK chancellor George Osborne has signed deals with the city’s health and civic leaders, which will established five healthcare devolution programmes in London.
These pilot programmes, which Osborne has promised will lead to better care for London’s residents, will cover nine boroughs in the UK’s capital city. The pilots will allow five London councils to share buildings with the NHS, while Hackney Council will be required to bring health and social care services under one budget.
Commenting on the news, Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England said: “In London’s NHS we’ve got some of the best health services anywhere on the planet – but also some of the most pressurised. London is the world’s most dynamic and diverse city – why shouldn’t it be the healthiest?” He argued that the pilots would free up unused NHS buildings and land and facilitate better prevention on children’s health issues, to make London’s health and social care infrastructure more efficient.
Stevens also suggested the pilots would enable new ways of joining up care for older people, to provide a more effective service. This was echoed by Osborne: “This deal means that not only will the people of London have more control over decisions that affect their lives, it will also lead to better, more joined up health care in the capital for Londoners.”
Speaking out on the launch of the pilots, health secretary Jeremy Hunt added: “The pilot areas we have announced today will be trailblazers as we move towards a fully integrated health and care service by 2020. By empowering more places in the capital to make the best decisions for themselves we will improve patient experience, and help keep people well for longer.”
Providing better care
We have to provide vulnerable members of our society such as the disabled and elderly with the most effective care possible. Whitehall believes that integrating NHS and council-funded care services is the best way to achieve this aim, as it will both allow patients more control of their care and link up resources so they receive effective, efficient care.
This policy’s detractors argue that the strategy won’t relieve pressure on an NHS that is already struggling to cope with a limited supply of resources, staff and funding. The launch of health devolution pilot schemes in London could provide us with the information we need to determine whether centralising care is the best way to ensure we look after society’s most vulnerable members.
Until the next time.