News, Tunstall Healthcare

Integrated care systems: reaching disenfranchised communities


Raj Purewal, UK&I Strategic Development Director at Tunstall Healthcare, discusses how technology can be adopted by integrated care systems (ICSs), and how care services can reach all communities and reduce health inequalities.

In October, Public Policy Projects (PPP) launched its ICS Roadshow in locations across the UK. The events endeavour to bring together health, social care and housing professionals and create a new forum for integrated care, which sees national policy delivered at a local level.

Setting the strategy with ICSs

ICSs have taken over the role of Clinical Commissioning Groups, who were previously responsible for commissioning the best health services for their localities. ICSs will also be responsible for implementing strategies across footprints to ensure patients and citizens can access the best services and care possible. They will be able to link the data and insight they have access to from the daily activities of the health and care sector, ultimately transforming the way care services are provided.

The integration of health and social care services will be a key enabler in the transformation of systems for citizens. ICSs, alongside local authorities, will be the driving force behind this as they have been specifically designed as the link between health and social care to improve collaboration, care provision and patient outcomes.

ICSs have also been tasked with ensuring the continuity of care in regions across England, so that national policy aligns with the needs of patients and citizens on a local level. The introduction of new legislation will direct local and regional health and care systems to improve alignment between service providers, while supporting, enabling and educating patients, and when appropriate, to manage their needs.

Tunstall is at a pivotal place when it comes to aligning services through ICSs and it’s crucial that we adapt our strategies as required. Tunstall’s services must support ICSs’ objectives and their focus on driving best practice, transforming services and increasing the use of digital capabilities for patients and citizens.

ICSs will foster closer working between health and care service providers. Tunstall’s longstanding role and remit shall continue, and we will also support providers, commissioners, partners and vendors to deliver the Triple Aim, ROI and best value for these sectors and the public sector pound.

Adopting technology

The importance of technology in service delivery across the health and care sectors shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly when it comes to monitoring and assessing citizens and patients when discharged, or in virtual wards, and when appropriate, pro-actively before a planned attendance. To adopt technology-enabled care services, we must help to educate both citizens and health and care professionals effectively, and leaders must coordinate this across ICSs.

Adopting and scaling the right technology will support many resources, increase utilisation, and improve capacity across the health and care systems, to provide effective care. ICSs will continue to increase the focus on building preventative and proactive care models, which will include investment in the continued advancement of technology.

Technology providers are working on solutions and platforms that will identify changes in patients’ or citizens’ vital signs, mobility or behaviour. For example, Tunstall Cognitive Care® will use advanced AI in combination with technology in the home to detect whether someone’s health could be about to deteriorate, spot a potentially undiagnosed condition, or resolve an immediate social care need.

Since before the pandemic, around 22 per cent of the NHS elective backlog for surgery is for orthopaedic conditions relating to the hip or knee, or cataract surgery; patients who are on these waiting lists can be identified and supported with remote monitoring. For example, if a particular behavioural trend for a citizen who is struggling with mobility can be seen, support can be offered quickly with an appropriate intervention at the right time to minimise the need for urgent, more expensive unplanned emergency care. This type of integration and use of technology will help to reduce stress and pressure on provider resources and service work plans.

As ICSs transform services, and move towards digitisation and digitalisation, the technology that providers deploy needs to facilitate strong foundations for the future of care provision, as ICSs will aim to optimise data and to generate insight. In helping to ensure that the infrastructure and systems are in place, Tunstall can start to have positive impacts on health and care services for all as health care services make these transitions.

Improving care services and reaching all communities

The overall experience of services for all citizens should be improved through the introduction of ICSs, as they will be tasked to ensure equality of care, which historically has not always been the case.

ICSs will also increase focus on improving value delivered for the public purse, improving efficiency by reducing the incidence of unattended appointments (DNAs) and ensuring a continuum of care for the patient and citizen from referral and after discharge. This is critical in ensuring healthcare services are optimised – ranging from effective patient communication, reducing the number of DNAs, and sharing insight with practitioners to inform best practice. ICSs will be able to take an analytical approach to the data they have access to and use this to both inform planning and to allocate resources.

To reduce health inequalities, it will be necessary to take a holistic view. For example, poor housing can have an impact on citizen health if there is a lack of insulation or if there is damp. There is no singular factor or reason that causes health inequality, but ICSs will bring bespoke approaches for their different localities to ensure gaps in health and care are lessened and minimised over time.

Other inequalities can cause communities to become disenfranchised with service providers, for example problems can arise because of travel, logistics and even linguistic challenges. Most recently, we saw an example of this as some communities were excluded from pandemic communications especially digital communications, including the messaging around measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The establishment and progression of ICSs will enable the alignment of technology-based health and social care services and improve health outcomes for every community across the UK.

As service providers and the workforce become increasingly invested in, and understanding of, the role of technology in supporting and empowering vulnerable people, we’ll see a reduction in health inequalities and upgraded services that are better able to meet the demands of our growing and ageing population.