A ‘quiet revolution’ in integrated care

All parties agree on the need for an integrated care model but what are they willing to do to achieve it?

For many years, integration of health and social care has been posed as the solution to problems in the health service.  Use of the word integration by political parties has soared in the past few years as politicians are quick to emphasise and reemphasise the idea of person-centred care for our ageing population.  But structural and funding barriers have made successful ‘on-the-ground’ delivery difficult.  Is true integration a pipe dream or can it really be a successful, measurable reality?

This week’s Tavistock Square debate, supported and hosted by Age UK, explored this very question.  At the very core of the debate lay a fundamental vision of successful integration, embodied by the Cornwall Living Well project. As a unitary local authority, Cornwall is perhaps better placed to deliver integrated care than other areas, but the ultimate aim is to prevent ill health by pairing up ill or vulnerable people in the community with representatives from health, social care and voluntary sector organisations.

The principles of the Cornwall project were summarised during the debate as follows:

  1. Listening to people’s needs and helping them live the lives they want
  2. Helping individuals get the health and social care they want, when they want it, delivered in a way that supports their goals
  3. Working in partnership with the voluntary sector

Although the Cornwall project is still at an early phase, a quiet revolution is slowly stirring.  According to Ms Youart, integration is being delivered as a ‘by-product’ of a new, more important model of care that is focused on the individual.  And this is just the start. Age UK’s Integrated Care Programme – of which Cornwall is a best practice case example – will be scaling up the programme to eight new UK sites.

For the political parties, the true test will lie in not in campaign rhetoric, but in the policy decisions taken by the next Health Secretary.  For Age UK, it’s all about getting the next Government aligned with the Five Year Forward View.  “Policy makers across government need to get behind the drive towards greater integrated care bringing together a range of providers including the voluntary sector.  Only then will we be able to work together to remove the barriers between health and social care, and physical and mental health,” says Ruthe Isden, Health Influencing Programme Director at Age UK.

Translating national policies into local change can be problematic, but it would seem foolish not to champion the example of Cornwall as a beacon of best practice in integrated care.  We should be helping to shape a new model of care that is less about financial levers and structures and more about people and relationships.