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Deeper council engagement still needed to drive health integration

More positive progress has been made regarding the involvement of local authorities in shaping integrated care systems (ICSs) across the country, but deeper engagement is needed to improve population health going forward, a leading think tank has argued.

In its major review of eight of the first-wave ICSs, the King’s Fund concluded that benefits of collaborating with councils so far include a stronger connection with local communities, closer working across the health and social care landscape, and opportunities to act on the wider determinants of health.

But this could be accelerated further. There is a real need to look beyond the health and care system to improve population health, and this will require “deeper local authority involvement,” as well as closer working with the voluntary and community sector.

The issue of local government exclusion from NHS-led conversations around integrated health is a longstanding one, despite the well-known fact that ties between councils and the health sector could lead to much better results. In fact, NHS England’s senior medical advisor, Dr Nick Harding, has argued that working without boundaries “would change everything.”

Speaking to PSE earlier this year, Public Health England boss Duncan Selbie even went as far as claiming that devolution is where “the most energy is” for health creation – with STPs a necessary first step, but local politics effectively being what we should focus on in the long term.

The King’s Fund itself has also previously said that STPs are only part of the journey that local government and the NHS have to take together towards better population health.

It is difficult to pinpoint where exactly the blame lies for this sluggish collaboration between both sectors, with many in the NHS arguing that councils aren’t stepping up to the mark, whilst several local government members have accused health bodies of acting behind closed doors.

Top image: VM


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