Health and wellbeing boards should be “empowered” and expanded to boost the integration of health and adult social care services, Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking at the Local Government Association conference today, the health and social care secretary described boards as “a vital component” in “accurately identifying needs and coordinating care”. He challenged delegates to assess the effectiveness of the boards in their area and broaden membership to ensure a variety of expertise.
He praised boards which include representatives of the police and voluntary sector, as well as all components of the health and care system, which helps to address “wider issues” such as mental health.
Mr Hancock added: “This is the kind of thing we need to see more of. It’s not the case everywhere. How strong is yours? What can you do to strengthen it?
“We must support health and wellbeing boards to bring together leaders in one place so we can increase collaboration, and so we can increase integration of services.
“Health and wellbeing boards are the formal way we bring together NHS and local authority services and I want to see them empowered.”
There have been question marks over the future role of health and wellbeing boards after the NHS long-term plan suggested a new form of joint working arrangements between health and local government as part of the development of integrated care systems.
Mr Hancock told delegates greater poolng of NHS and council budgets was required to make the ICSes “work and have more place based budgets, not payments based on a click of the turnstiles with all the perverse incentives that they bring”.
Under the long-term plan all parts of the country must have an ICS in place by 2021.
Mr Hancock said: “And of course to make an ICS work the relationships really matter, and my message to the NHS and to local government is let’s build those relationships to make place based health a reality.”
In response to a question after his speech Mr Hancock suggested ICSes had “a key role to play” in addressing social care funding crisis.
He said the publication of the long-delayed social care green paper has been “bedevilled by a parliamentary logjam and a failure to build a cross party consensus”, adding that “narrow partisan politics has got in the way of a solution”.
Mr Hancock said he shared delegates’ frustration that the public debate on social care focuses “almost entirely” on care for older people when the costs of supporting working age adults and children are rising.
He added that funding through taxation was “always going to be an important part of the solution” to establishing a sustainable social care system and said it should be a key priority in the spending review.
He said both candidates for the Conservative party leadership are committed to the social care agenda. Mr Hancock added Jeremy Hunt had made this clear publicly and said Boris Johnson had assured him personally that making progress on social care was a “key priority”.