With the 2015 General Election on the horizon, this year’s NHS Confederation Annual Conference and Exhibition proved an ideal platform for political figures to set out their vision and priorities for healthcare – with integration becoming a reoccurring theme throughout the keynote sessions.

Thursday’s event programme featured three political parties in the line up ready to address the conference’s 1,500+ delegates described as “healthcare leaders, decision-makers, partners and stakeholders”.

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Kicking off the day with a panel session on the main stage, care and support minister Norman, Lamb, discussed the integration of services calling to expand the Better Care Fund (a single pooled budget to support health and social care services to work more closely together in local areas) with a legal obligation for commissioners to pool local resources in an attempt to “end the disputes about who pays for care”.

In a speech focussed on his vision for integrated commissioning and services around a “full personalisation of care”, shadow secretary of state for health, Andy Burnham, argued that the Better Care Fund was a rushed response to integration, back filling cuts to social care from NHS budgets.

In the afternoon, Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health, took to the stage showing his support for the fund for a sustainable NHS future, but urged for risk sharing between hospitals and commissioners if the fund failed to reduce emergency admissions.

Hunt also reiterated the importance of technology in the future, calling for bolder transparency and use of data to evaluate trusts’ performances. His speech was followed by a Q&A in which he revealed his pet project was for GPs to be able to Skype hospital consultants before a referral, to check that the referral is appropriate, and to learn more about the condition.

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And the integration theme did not stop there – the conference itself benefited from the main stage this year being moved next the exhibition hall helping to improve footfall, and increasing the interaction between delegates and 850 exhibiting personnel. The result was a positive ‘buzz’ around the floor, further demonstrated as speakers, including Jeremy Hunt and Helene Donnelly, the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust’s ambassador for cultural change, taking time to speak with fellow speakers ‘in the stands’.

This led to positive feedback from delegates on Twitter. Yvonne Coghill from a leadership background tweeted: “@NHSLeadership I have to say, have really enjoyed #NHSConfed2014. One of the best I’ve been to. With thanks to @NHSConfed_RobW and his team”.

Taking on feedback from last year’s conference, the organisers also made adjustments to the programme offering “a wider range of plenary sessions and a broader variety of breakout sessions”. Not surprisingly, a session on ‘Delivering value through integration’ with speakers from Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group to the West London Mental Health NHS Trust, amongst others, proved very popular with Guardian journalist Clare Horton, tweeting: “Packed room for session on integration at #confed2014”.

Horton’s final tweet of the session said: “#integration panelists asked for one piece of advice: build relationships, keep talking, think beyond orgs’ boundaries #confed2014”. Sound advice and something that NHS Confederation event team are looking to do as they strive for feedback, building on the success of this year’s event.

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