Digital transformation in social care: the key ingredient to effective integration?
Integration between health and social care services has been an aspiration for over a decade. However, integration means very different things to different people across communities of GPs, CCGs, local authorities, or even the very people receiving care and support.
The renewed drive for health and social care integration, as recently described in the Government’s whitepaper, has already started. We are seeing a clear acceleration of activities that promote system thinking – be it in the context of Integrated Care Systems (ICS), or in the context of shared care records, where NHSx has set the ambitious goal for the whole of the NHS to have shared care records in place by the end of 20212. But there are also concerns about how this process frames integration as something that happens from the commissioning bodies’ points of view.
Discussions around integration are primarily taking place between the NHS and local authorities. Yet, the vast majority of care provided in social care is done so through a wide array of sources of support: unpaid carers, personal assistants, home care and care home providers. These carers are largely employed by one of over 20,000 care providers across the UK. Although approximately half of all paid care is commissioned by local authorities or NHS CCGs, the other half is paid for privately, with no commissioner’s involvement.
Care providers need to be invited to be part of these discussions – integration will not be achieved by having the NHS and Local Authorities designing processes and dictating them to providers.