There’s a joke going around the policy circuit that, at the end of time there will only be two things left: cockroaches and a couple of people trying to work out how to integrate health and social care.
A cynical view perhaps, but we only have to look at the history of policy making to see why. It was back in 1974 when there was the first attempt at statutory duty on local authorities and health to work together There have also been numerous attempts since then to integrate health and social care: strategic partnerships, the Darzi review, and the Care Programme Approach to name a few.
Fast forward to the current day and the integration of health and social care is high up the political and policy agenda once again. The Minister for Health and Social Care, Norman Lamb MP has said that ‘the health service must adapt in innovative ways to accommodate evolving, and increasingly complex, patient needs’. Norman Lamb also announced in May ‘a new Pioneer Sites Programme which will provide support for ten sites across the country working to explore how they can integrate their services’.
Meanwhile an independent commission has been created by the Labour Party to make recommendations for delivering ‘whole person care’ and will be reporting to the Shadow Cabinet in due course.
Last month, the Mental Health Foundation launched our report on integrated care: Crossing Boundaries, which was the result of an inquiry and a call for evidence which received over 1200 responses. We found a pressing need for more inter-professional education and training on mental health, especially given the close relationship between physical health problems and mental health. We know that poor physical health can lead to mental health problems, just as we know that people with mental distress are more likely to develop physical health problems.
The inquiry also found that an ‘underpinning essential’ for integrated care was leadership to drive forward integration at a strategic level. It is perhaps concerning then to learn this week that the only NHS trust known to have a post with a social care leader at board level across England's NHS mental health services has been removed. Leadership from social care as well as health care is fundamental to addressing the inequity in mental health provision, as well as moving forward on a truly integrated system of care and support.