Integrating health and care and the role of the supermarket?

Integration was the theme of the day for the thousands of delegates who flocked to London’s Commissioning and Health + Care event this week. It was a topic that spread throughout the conference sessions and is now widely recognised as fundamental to deliver better, patient focussed and sustainable care.

With pioneering healthcare organisations already tackling the issue head on, and many of their counterparts still at the start of the integration curve, it came as no surprise that primary care professionals and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) were amongst those in strong attendance.

But the mix of companies promoting their services was intriguing, even to the extent that supermarket chain Asda saw an opportunity.

This was thought provoking. While Asda’s aim at the event may have been to target care homes with their business delivery services, could the role of companies like this be more significant in the integration piece? Does a patient’s access to everyday services like their grocery shopping have sufficient visibility in their journey throughout the healthcare system? Can a patient being discharged from a hospital manage to do their shopping alone and do the staff discharging them even know? Is it the responsibility of health and care organisations to ensure patients get the help they need to continue to access basic services? And is this really part of the integration picture – can it be limited to joining up only health and care services?

In fact the exhibitors were wide ranging in general – with everything from commissioning support units through to Weight Watchers taking a stand. Of noticeable attendance were the number of technology vendors, of which there were significantly more compared to last year. Technology and the means to join-up information and deliver it where it is needed, received a strong recognition in the conference. Moreover, there was far greater interest by delegates in what these vendors had to say, with CCGs being far better established than they were this time last year and much more aware of the types of tools and systems that they needed to make integrated care a reality.

A ‘data first’ stream, for example, picked up on ideas of just what integrating data can mean for the individual patient. Panellists said that to get there this data needs to be turned into intelligence and that it then needed to be placed into the hands of those who have the power to make decisions, power which was rapidly shifting towards the clinician and the patient. The need to integrate information for integrated care was echoed in the wider conference by the Health Secretary himself: “We need to be able to share electronic health records across the entire system so that patients feel that they are receiving absolutely integrated care,” Jeremy Hunt told delegates.

And reaching that milestone would involve taking along people on the ground. This was the consensus from other sessions. It was the view not only from NHS England’s national director for patients and information, Tim Kelsey, who said effective commissioning now relied on “listening” to patients, but it was reinforced by others, including GP Dr Sam Everington the chair of Tower Hamlets CCG. Partnership was needed to commission health services, he said; and that meant patients and clinicians arguing for change.

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