Sir John Oldham, the chair of the Labour commission set up to examine ways of joining up health and social care, has pledged to keep an “open mind” on how the integration could be best achieved.
Sir John, who was the Department of Health’s clinical lead for productivity and efficiency until earlier this year and is a GP, has pledged not to be “tied down” by shadow health minister Andy Burham’s vision that NHS budgets should be placed in local authorities’ hands.
Labour leader Ed Miliband announced on Monday the establishment an independent commission on whole person care to “find ways of integrating health and social care for the next Labour government so that both of these key public services are affordable in an era when there is less money around than there was in the past”.
Mr Miliband said: “The NHS is facing the biggest challenge in its history. The toughest financial pressures for 50 years are colliding with our rising need for care as society gets older and we see more people with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and dementia.”
Sir John, who will chair the group, told HSJ sister title Local Government Chronicle he was open to all suggestions about “how to create more coordinated and integrated care”.
He said he would “start out within the framework” outlined by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who told HSJ in January that he was working on a plan to put the vast majority of NHS funding in councils’ control, with health and wellbeing boards as the “pre-eminent” decision-makers.
However, Sir John said: “If people come to radically different conclusions [about how to join up health and care] we’ll consider them… I’m not going to be tied down.”
He said giving more power and responsibility to health and wellbeing boards was likely to be “one of the options” under consideration.
“The premise is how we can create more coordinated and co-ordinated care for people, given that the biggest proportion of health and care costs come from people with multiple needs,” he said.
“I start with an open mind about how that can be achieved.”
Sir John stressed that any proposed changes would have to be possible without major structural change. “The NHS is sick and tired of structural change,” he said. “It disrupts relationships and that impedes good care.”
He said there would be a “listening exercise” over the next six to eight weeks, with “substantive work” carried out by the end of 2013 and a report within about a year.
The other members of the commission include Hilary Chapman, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust chief nurse; Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes; Sally Brearley, lay member of National Quality Board and patient involvement expert; Birmingham City Council director of social care Peter Hay; and Marion Dinwoodie, chief executive of Kent Community Health Trust.