Health and social services authorities will be able to pool budgets under proposals set out this week in the government's promised consultation document on joint working.
The idea, heralded in The New NHS white paper, is intended to break down health secretary Frank Dobson's 'Berlin walls' - the barriers encouraging turf wars over who should be responsible for people whose needs span health and social care.
The proposals were welcomed by managers' leaders, although Chris Vellenoweth, special projects manager for the NHS Confederation, said he hoped ministers did not expect them 'to enable a cash-strapped health service to bail out equally cash- strapped social services'.
This would hinder joint working on local health improvement programmes, he warned.
Michael Hake, chair of the organisation and development committee of the Association of Directors of Social Services, also welcomed the proposals.
But he said existing opportunities for joint working should be maximised before 2000, when the new arrangements are due to be implemented.
The discussion document rules out major structural change and dismisses the idea of new statutory health and social services authorities.
But it proposes that a single agency, which could be the health authority, a primary care trust or social services authority, should become the lead commissioner of health and social services.
It would take responsibility for both health and social care.
To encourage joint working, HAs will be given extended powers to transfer money to support local authority services within the context of local health improvement
They will also be able to delegate these powers to primary care trusts, and local authorities will be given 'a reciprocal power' to transfer funds to NHS bodies.
Launching the document yesterday, health minister Alan Milburn said: 'Too often the complex needs of many people have taken second place to a system plagued by boundaries, barriers and turf wars. They become trapped in a no-man's land between health and social
But junior health minister Paul Boateng said the government is not looking for the NHS to become 'a significant provider of social care, or vice versa.'
The document proposes that measures to monitor and review joint working should be introduced. This could include issuing guidance on joint national priorities for both the NHS and social services.
Joint inspection of services by the new Commission for Health Improvement, the Social Services Inspectorate and the Audit Commission will be considered.Legislation to introduce the changes is expected in the next session of Parliament, ready for implementation early in 2000. Responses to the consultation document are required by 31 October.
Partnership in Action. Department of Health. http://www.open.gov.uk/doh/pia.htm