The government’s ambitious plan to integrate health and social care is on track to go live next April despite the “tough” financial climate, the health chief overseeing the project has said.
In an exclusive interview, Andrew Ridley admitted the health and local authority commissioners expected to collaborate on the £3.8bn better care fund were “hard up” and should brace for a further five “tough” years.
But he still expected all 151 integration plans drawn up by local areas to be approved by next year’s April deadline.
“It is my intention that everybody is approved by then,” he told HSJ and its sister title Local Government Chronicle.
“That is the intention of the legislation - so we will work really hard to make sure everything gets approved.”
He admitted some areas were finding it tough to draw up coherent plans but said he was “not getting signals from any areas that this is impossible”.
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Mr Ridley, who has been seconded to the role from the North East London Commissioning Support Unit, said plans would be formally checked from next month.
They will be rated as either approved, approved with support or approved with conditions. A similar system is applied by NHS England to clinical commissioning groups.
However, Mr Ridley said that he did not expect every plan to be signed off by the DH’s November deadline.
“There will be some people who miss the timetable, then there will be some who are not approved,” he added.
“We will then have to think about how we support them throughout the winter so that they get to a position where they are fully approved by the time the transfer goes live next April.”
Mr Ridley said he was convinced that the integration project would help trusts and authorities save money - but only in the long term.
“Over time, the international evidence would suggest we save money. We know that in places like Valencia, the data is very strong.
“You will reduce costs and unnecessary admissions but only if you do certain things over a prolonged period.”
Mr Ridley said he hoped the introduction of new rules for the better care funds last month would reassure NHS providers.
Under these rules, some funding will be set aside to compensate hospitals should plans fail to cut emergency admissions.
They will also give acute providers the chance to raise questions about the viability of local plans.
“This is not about all the commissioners in a huddle ganging up on the local hospital and deciding to take a load of money off them,” he said. “It’s not the way to run the system.”