Headlines: January 31st, 2006

Local authorities will work more closely with health trusts as part of the package of measures in a White Paper designed to deliver health and social care services closer to where people live. The Government is being warned, though, that while a move to more focus on preventative measures and making the service more responsive to patients is welcome it must ensure there are the resources to make this happen.The plans outlined in “Our Health, our care, our say: a new direction in community services”, aim to give people more choice and say over the care they receive in the community, and much closer working and coordination between health and social care. The measures include better access to GPs by increasing the choice of practices for everyone and extending opening hours. It also envisages partnerships between local authorities and Primary Care Trusts to produce joint teams and common assessments, as well as a new generation of community hospitals and other locally-based services.

The Association of Directors of Social Services has welcomed some of the proposals in the White Paper, particularly the shift of emphasis from acute services to prevention and the assertion that funding will be moved accordingly. It has also applauded the ideas for support for carers set out in the White Paper. ADSS President, Julie Jones, said, “Any resources transferred must be transparently transferred, and stay transferred.”

She added that the Association was excited by plans to improve support for people with long term conditions by requiring personal health and social care plans to be drawn up for those with the greatest needs and she said the new, statutory, role of Director of Adult Social Services would significantly influence local government’s lead responsibility for prevention and well-being. She also welcomed the proposals for shared, local leadership and joint assessment and commissioning to meet local community needs. She warned, though, “These aspirations are only achievable if the NHS works even more closely with social care and local government.”

The British Medical Association has also warned that there must be the capacity and resources to make the proposals happen. Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of its GPs committee said GP practices were well-liked and trusted by their patients and would like to become more responsive to patients’ needs but, he said, the Government must do more to address the underlying problem of capacity if this was to become a reality. “We still have a shortage of family doctors and fewer GPs per head of the population than most other countries in Western Europe,” he said.

Unveiling the White Paper, the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt said it moved the NHS to the next stage of improvements and signalled a major change in how health and social care would work together in the future. “Through the Independence, Well-being and Choice and the Your Health, Your Care, Your Say consultations, we heard the need for health and social care to work more closely together. We need to do this because people don’t think about their health needs, their housing needs, their care needs and their transport needs separately. They are all inextricably linked,” she said. The White Paper recognised that public services had to work across organisational boundaries to meet people’s needs, she added. The Government would make this easier through changes to the way the NHS and Social Care work, including how they commissioned services.