Integration within and across the health and social care sectors has been named a new priority area for the NHS Future Forum, whose second phase of work was launched by the prime minister last week.
The body, whose first set of recommendations in June were associated with substantial changes to the Health Bill, has expanded its membership from 42 to 53. It will continue to be chaired by former Royal College of GPs chair Professor Steve Field. The forum will undertake a set of listening exercises and start work on 6 September.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said in July that the second stage of the listening exercise would focus on three areas: education and training, information, and public health.
However, a fourth strand has been added, on integration. An emphasis on integrated care – balancing the reforms’ initial prioritisation of competition – featured prominently in the Future Forum’s previous report.
The new workstream will study integration between health and social care, as well as within the NHS. It is hoped its recommendations will feed into the government’s forthcoming white paper on social care and response to the Dilnot review on long term care.
Professor Field told HSJ that prime minister David Cameron – who he met with last week – was a passionate advocate of integration between primary, secondary and social care due to his own family’s encounters with the NHS. Mr Cameron wanted to continue the forum’s work because “he believes this is a way of better engaging with people”, he added.
The forum would not recommend further amendments to the Health Bill, Professor Field said, adding: “That piece of work has finished, very clearly”. Instead, the four reports will contribute to separate areas of policy. The four workstreams will be completed by December.
Professor Field emphasised the need to keep the public’s health “at the heart of the NHS” and not seen as something “being done in local government”. Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, who led the forum’s work on choice and competition, will work on the integration and information workstreams.
He told HSJ he saw the forum as an “expert panel” which could be consulted on core policy issues. “It’s good the forum is still around to remind the Department of Health they can’t afford to backslide on reform – and we need a countervailing force against the powers of reaction like the British Medical Association,” he said.