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14.12.17

The King’s Fund Annual Conference 2017: looking to the future

PSE’s Seamus McDonnell reports from the King’s Fund Annual Conference 2017 in London, which covered the latest developments in integration, prevention, and the future of health and social care during 29-30 November.

Against the backdrop of increasing service pressures, limited funding and a major workforce crisis, the King’s Fund Annual Conference marks an important time for health experts to come together and look at innovative solutions to the nation’s key issues.

Held at the think tank’s building in London, the two-day event featured talks on devolution, data, preventive care and place-based partnerships, as well as many other topics – with a selection of high-profile speakers ranging from local councillors and NHS staff to public health officials and even secretary of state Jeremy Hunt.

Each one of these issues is important in its own right. But some represent specialised topics that differ considerably to what health professionals commonly deal with – while others, like devolution, are so wide-ranging and complex that they need to be split up and looked at in depth.

The event opened on 29 November with a panel talk on place-based prevention during which Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, discussed the advantages that welfare spending can give to the health system.

“What good does it do to treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?” he asked – a phrase that aptly explains the core ideas behind preventive health.

The focus is on stopping problems before they develop in order to save time, money and staff at a later date. But Marmot pointed to the reduction in welfare funding under this government, another factor behind the increased stress on services as more people visit facilities in need of treatment.

“The poorer you are, the more you will suffer – as a direct result of government policy,” he concluded.

Devolution means integration

As the event continued, other speakers focused on the integration of health and care systems in communities, and how they are working to smooth out rising delayed transfers of care, which notoriously waste valuable money and time while patients wait to be moved into community settings.

Some, like King’s Fund senior researcher David Buck, believe that integrating care systems is a vital piece of the healthcare puzzle which needs to be developed to allow the whole service to improve.

“The key bit here is growing beyond integrated care, and we have reflected for quite a long time on working with this system,” he commented.

“Integrated care is really critical, but it’s not the end of the story: it’s part of the journey. We need to get that right, but it isn’t the only thing we need to get right, and this work is intending to take us forward on that.”

Integration was, in fact, one of the headline themes of this year’s conference, cropping up throughout the two days during discussions about prevention and data.

But the subject was no more prevalent than when Jon Rouse, chief executive of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP), explained the work his region has been delivering as part of its landmark devolution deal.

GMHSCP does not focus simply on integration between health and care: when developing its integrated discharge team it brought together health, social care, voluntary support, community transport and even housing in some cases.

Rouse told delegates that this devolved approach only works because the NHS and local councils are working with other bodies side-by-side in a system which forces them to take collective responsibility and air their grievances with each other.

“It means you have a whole-system conversation which is about place, but it’s also impossible to blame anybody else because they’re in the room – so if you are going to blame them, they’re going to hear it,” he explained.

“This means you resolve issues much more readily. It doesn’t mean we don’t have tensions and disagreements, but it creates a different dynamic.”

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Finance and quality

As the final day of the conference came to a close, delegates from a number of key healthcare organisations, both public and private, gathered to listen to a closing speech in which Hunt discussed the correlation between finance and quality.

Interestingly, the secretary of state and the Department of Health have noticed that hospitals with a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ CQC rating are often working with a financial surplus, while those with a ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ rating are, on average, in deficit.

“The correlation is stronger than that, because the ‘outstanding’ trusts have a higher surplus than the ‘good’ trusts, and the ‘inadequate’ trusts have a higher deficit than the ‘requires improvement’ trusts,” Hunt explained.

He added that, currently, his department is still trying to understand the relationship between CQC ratings and trust finances 

“We know that money matters when it comes to quality – if you don’t have enough nurses on a ward you have to put more nurses there and that costs money, so no one is pretending that money isn’t important for basic levels of safety,” he continued. “But our working assumption is that poor-quality care is the most expensive care in the country.”

Innovation and data

In terms of innovation and the future of the NHS, it seems that things are moving quickly along in the healthcare world. This year’s conference featured a huge number of topics dealing with new ways of working to improve the efficiency of services and, crucially, benefit the health of patients.

Listening to many of the speeches this year, it would be surprising if the use of data was not much more widespread throughout the medical community by next year’s conference.

In fact, one striking aspect from this year’s event was the question of negligence. With technology and practices changing and advancing so quickly, at what point does it become negligent for providers and caregivers not to embrace the future?

In a sector that has been slow to pick up new developments in the past, this year’s King’s Fund conference leaves a lasting impression for the number of speeches and exhibitions devoted to bringing advancements in the future.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
W: kingsfund.org.uk

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