There will be no government drive to merge health and social care organisations across the country, health minister Paul Burstow has told MPs.
He also described the care trust model of integrated services provision as an “experiment that never really got out of the lab”.
Mr Burstow was giving evidence on Tuesday to the final session of the health select committee’s social care inquiry.
Labour MP for West Lancashire Rosie Cooper asked Mr Burstow about recent media reports that the prime minister had ordered health and social care to be merged.
He said: “We need to see greater integration between health and social care. But what the prime minster has definitely not said….is that there is to be a new grand design, a structural merger of health and social care.”
Mr Burstow said health and wellbeing boards and other parts of the reform agenda would “incentivise and drive integration across the system” through changes in commissioning behaviour rather than through structures.
He denied a claim from Ms Cooper that this new system was merely “voluntary collaboration”. He said: “It’s sending a very clear signal. The key point is that you orientate the services around the individual.”
Mr Burstow was also repeatedly asked why existing models of integrated care, such as Torbay Care Trust in Devon, would not be rolled out or piloted further under the reform plans.
He said: “They’ve proved to be an interesting experiment but as an experiment they didn’t really get out of the lab.”
The minister said “one of the problems” with the care trust model was that it had not “lead to any significant transformation across the service”. “We are now taking a different approach,” he said. “Health and wellbeing boards are a key part of that to drive for integration [not] in a few places but across the whole [system].”
His comments follow last week’s recommendations from the NHS Future Forum on integration, one of four reports published as part of its second phase of work.
In its response to the forum, the government said it was committed to “encourage joined up commissioning and integrated provision” through its annual mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board. But it was accused by integration advocate and King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham of not going beyond “warm words and good intentions”.