Health economies have been invited to bid to become integration “pioneers” running large-scale experiments in integrated care, in an initiative launched by health minister Norman Lamb.
Those areas awarded pioneer status will be offered support and advice to help overcome barriers to care integration from a central Integrated Care and Support Exchange team, the Department of Health said in a statement.
Sources with knowledge of the initiative said there were expected to be 10 pioneers selected in the first wave, and the selection panel would be looking for ambitious, large-scale experiments in integrated care.
Expressions of interest must be submitted by the end of June, so the “panel of national and international experts can choose the most innovative and appoint them in September”, said the DH statement.
In return for support, the statement said pioneers would be expected to “share and promote their experiences and ideas with the rest of the country”. It added that further pioneers would be sought in every year until 2015.
Speaking at a King’s Fund event this morning, Mr Lamb said the local areas that were chosen as pioneers could be offered “flexibilities” around payment mechanisms so that hospitals had a financial incentive to help patients to be supported in community settings.
The DH would take a “permissive approach” to giving the local areas the freedoms that they requested in order to join services up, Mr Lamb said.
He said he wanted the pioneers to be “leaders across the entire system” rather than “pilots where everybody else should stand back and see what’s happening”.
The minister said the NHS would be at risk of “collapse” in the long term if a major shift towards integration did not take place.
“We must integrate or disintegrate,” he said.
At the event Mr Lamb also outlined plans for a new system to measure whether local areas were succeeding in creating joined-up health and care systems. This would be based on measurements of patients’ experiences, he said.
King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham the move to identify pioneers of integrated care “at scale and pace” represented a “step change”, but called for the pioneer areas to be offered additional freedoms to aid their work.
“[Some] aspects of current policy and regulation are acting as barriers to delivering co-ordinated care,” he said. “This should be addressed by giving pioneer areas freedoms and flexibilities to overcome these restrictions when they are rolled out from September.”
Asked what these freedoms might be, he suggested increased flexibility around rules on procurement and competition, the ability to negotiate contracts for periods longer than one year, and the ability for local clinical commissioning groups to have more direct control over the commissioning of primary care.
The search for integration pioneers comes alongside the publication of a “shared commitment” signed by 12 national health and care organisations to “help local areas make integration happen”, the DH said.
This document “lays out how local areas can use existing structures like health and wellbeing boards to bring together local authorities, the NHS, social care providers, education, housing services, public health and others to make further steps towards integration,” said the DH statement.
It added: “To help encourage local change NHS England has guided clinical commissioning groups that they can set aside two per cent of their budgets for transformation work. This could include projects designed to boost integration in their area.”