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The Health and Care Bill will build a health service fit for a post-pandemic future

4 min read

Our health and care system has performed amazingly throughout this time of national crisis, in very large part down to the phenomenal efforts of our fantastic NHS and care workforce.

There’s been close collaboration, and joined up working, rapid adoption of new technologies, and the casting aside of bureaucratic rules that can get in the way of doing the job rather than enhancing patient care.

As we look ahead to life after the pandemic, we must all reflect on the many lessons we’ve learnt, and think about how we can make that learning part of our response to the future.

We recently published our proposals for a Health and Care Bill, which aims to build on the change we’ve seen, so we can shape a system that’s better able to serve people in a fast-changing world. I’m pleased the Health and Social Care Committee will start taking evidence on these important proposals.  

The proposals in the White Paper build on the ideas first put forward by the NHS, in its Long Term Plan and its 2019 consultation. There are four important areas where we want to focus. 

First, to further support the prevention agenda, which is such a priority for me and for this Government. The White Paper lays out a new approach based on the concept of population health. In practice this means moving away from an individual approach that looks  at each patient separately and ensuring the health of a whole community is considered and planned for. Each part of England will have an Integrated Care System responsible for bringing together the NHS and local government to work on health and care services but also the many determinants of health and wellbeing, to prevent or intervene in ill health before someone needs more serious care.  

We must also remove the barriers that stop the system from being truly integrated. We want to see different parts of the NHS joining up better; and the NHS and local government forming even more dynamic partnerships,  such as those that already exist in some areas including on the provision of social care. For example, in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, joining up services across the NHS, voluntary sector and local authority enabled them to establish a community-based mental health crisis service. Before the service was launched, there was no capacity to see people in need of mental health care out of hours, except via A&E , and it is this sort of innovation driven by patient’s needs that we aim to further foster and enable.

Our new proposals mean that each part of England will have an Integrated Care System responsible for bringing together the NHS and local government to work on health and care services but also the many determinants of health and wellbeing, to prevent or intervene in ill health before someone needs more serious care.  

Joined up care also means people will only have to tell their story once – rather than facing repetition, duplication and confusion. Given we face an ageing population with more complex needs, that has never been more important. 

These proposals will make it easier for clinicians, carers and public health experts to achieve what they already work hard to do: operate seamlessly across health and care, without being split into artificial silos that keep them apart.

Secondly, we want a system that is more accountable and responsive most importantly to the people that use it and to the people that work in it. Ministers have always been accountable, rightly, for NHS performance. Our proposals will make sure NHS England, in a new combined form, is even more accountable to Government, and thus Parliament, and the taxpayers that use it while maintaining the NHS’s clinical and day-to-day operational independence, reflecting the evolution of NHS England since it was originally formed.

Thirdly, we will use legislation to bust some of the transactional bureaucracy that has made sensible decision-making harder, such as constant re-tendering for healthcare services regardless of circumstances or whether it’s in the best interests of patients or value for money in a particular situation. The reforms will help us use technology in a modern way, to support staff and patient care, and leave clinicians with more time to focus on their vital frontline work.

Our health and care system has shown the best of our country throughout this pandemic . The proposals in this Bill are all about backing our health and care system and everyone who works in it to learn the lessons of the past to ensure we are ready for the challenges of the future, and allowing us to build back better for that bright future that lies ahead.

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Read the most recent article written by Edward Argar MP - A more integrated and accountable NHS is crucial to tackle health inequalities