'The commissioning process must have an injection of public involvement at every stage but particularly at the very beginning when need is assessed'

Will 2007-08 be the year when the gap between the NHS and local government begins to close? In fact there is a range of articles in this week's issue that show grounds for optimism and pessimism.

David Colin-Thome argues in our opinion piece (see issue, pages 18-19) that the commissioning process must have an injection of public involvement at every stage but particularly at the very beginning when need is assessed. That in turn must mean a greater engagement with councils' overview and scrutiny committees by both PCTs and GPs. This is a process that works both ways: the wide portfolio of local government activities such as housing and transport have an impact on population health that the NHS should be able to influence.

As our feature outlines (Read this week's magazine - pages 22-24 for the full story), new guidance on producing joint strategic needs assessments will be a clear driver for closer joint working. However, its success will depend on the ability and willingness to share information and this is where the record is far from healthy.

And, as we report on page 6 of this week's issue, the NHS Confederation believes more joint appointments between PCTs and councils are necessary to help curb growing tensions about cost-shunting. A recent report claims two-thirds of social services departments believe NHS deficits have prompted trusts to push social care costs onto local government.

Joint appointments are only part of the solution - more challenging developments like joint management of assets hold greater opportunity.