The government has embarked on a major consultation designed to involve patients, providers and professionals in re-designing social care.
The Caring for the Future exercise, launched today, will help shape new legislation, said the Department of Health, which has drafted in key figures from health and social care to lead the project.
The move was described by one policy expert as an attempt to “do it properly this time” and avoid the kind of rows that have dogged the government’s health bill.
The integration of health and social care services and the funding of social care are among key topics up for discussion.
“The great value of this will be to make stakeholders feel engaged in some of the tough choices that have to be made,” said Richard Humphries, social care fellow at the King’s Fund.
“The danger is that it will cause further delay. In the last five years we have had at least two engagement or listening exercises, a green paper, a white paper and an independent commission. It’s important that this adds value and a fresh perspective to questions that are pretty familiar.”
He said the toughest questions would naturally be around funding and resources.
“The 64 million dollar question is how you balance the competing priorities within all of this and how you pull that together into a coherent policy,” he added.
Patients and providers will be asked how they would like NHS and social services to work more closely together.
Manchester GP Robert Varnam and local authority boss Geoff Alltimes, chief executive of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, have been appointed to lead work on integration, working with the NHS Future Forum.
They will gather views on where services should be better integrated both within the NHS and between health and social services in areas like the management of long-term conditions, care of older people and handovers from one part of the system to another.
Findings from the three-month consultation will help inform the development of a care and support white paper planned for Spring next year.
The other key themes include quality and workforce development, increased personalisation of care and the role of financial services.
The exercise will also look at how local social care markets operate.
It was launched on the same day as a National Audit Office report, which said the DH needed to “develop a system to address serious provider failure” in the wake of the collapse of care home provider Southern Cross.