The Integrated Care Network plays a key role in promoting partnership working in the health service. Julia Thompson reports on its work

'Partnerships and integration aren't sideshows.' These were the words health minister Ivan Lewis used to describe the central role joint working plays in achieving the government's agenda for system reform.

But effective partnerships that lead to.a demonstrable improvement in service quality and individual outcomes are difficult to establish, let alone measure.

The Integrated Care Network was set up in 2003 to support people working in healthcare and local government by providing information, leadership and advice on partnership and integrated services. The network.now has almost 6,000 members and is one of the Care Services Improvement Partnership's.four learning and improvement networks, funded by the Department of Health.

It provides a broad portfolio of resources, including:

  • publications and advisory notes
  • national and regional events
  • consultations and sharing of practice
  • an interactive website
  • regular e-newsletters.

The network.is the DoH's central point of contact for care trust development. It keeps the national register of all section 31 agreements - partnerships between health and local government that use legislation to create pooled budgets, lead commissioning or integrated provision.

CSIP's national networks are unique forums for sharing knowledge, information and practice, and they.also offer skills development in specific areas. They provide a platform for those working in health, local government and other care settings to establish a dialogue with colleagues in the DoH and other key organisations at national level about local experiences, good and bad, of implementing policy.

Ongoing projects

For the Integrated Care Network, 2006-07 has been a productive period. The network has broadened its focus to include a wider range of themes, many of which relate to current NHS policies. Major partners have been involved in these developments, including the Improvement Foundation, Improvement and Development Agency, Department for Education and Skills, national and regional public health teams, as well as several directorates across the DoH.

The network.has worked closely with CSIP's regional development centres to organise local learning opportunities for disseminating information and sharing innovation.

The coming year, 2007-08, will also be busy. Developments include:

  • a revised version of the Nuffield Partnership assessment tool, redesigned as a web-based resource
  • new guidance produced with the DoH foundation trust team on partnerships in foundation trusts
  • briefings on social enterprise, unbundling the tariff, self-directed support
  • an integrated care pathways practice example resource
  • revised guidance for chief executives on section 31 agreements in the light of the 2006 Health Act.

Partnerships are set to remain in the policy spotlight as core business for health and social care. The network.welcomes an active relationship with its members to help achieve radical improvements in the quality of care through closer joint working.

All publications, conference notes and available presentations can be downloaded from the Integrated Care Network website, www.icn.csip.org.uk.

Julia Thompson is network manager for the Integrated Care Network.