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What should integrated care partnerships be prioritising?

integrated care partnerships

As the wheels of integrated care begin to turn, Eliot Gillings explores exactly what integrated care partnerships should be prioritising, and why.

An integrated care partnership (ICP) is ultimately responsible for the creation of an integration strategy that can inform the work of integrated care boards (ICBs) and partner organisations. Looking at short-, medium-, and long-term challenges to the delivery of health and care (which may impact certain regions disproportionately), the ICP has the opportunity to assess and address health inequalities through system-wide action.

Key to enacting system-wide action will be the development of collaborative networks between ICPs and partner organisations, including social care providers, charity and volunteer groups, primary care networks and others. Beyond enabling a more holistic and personalised provision of care, an institutional emphasis on collaboration will enable an ICP better understand the challenges faced by their systems and their populations.

In building that network, however, it will be key for ICPs to deliver short-term solutions to health inequalities within their systems, which will, in turn, necessitate the rapid establishment of institutional priorities. Accordingly, the following list highlights some key areas of consideration for ICPs as they continue to grow as statutory bodies.

     1. Closing the gap on data inequality

One of the central purposes of ICSs is reducing health inequality through population health strategies. However, while ICSs and health organisations already engage and utilise several sources of information, the development of new information-sharing networks should be a key priority to expand the assessment of outcomes and improve the provision of care.

Accordingly, ICPs should seek to explore the variety of local partners and stakeholders engaged with communities whose health data does not currently feed into the system level. This is of particular consideration for systems where deprivation is unevenly distributed amongst certain demographics – but also those that experience high levels of digital exclusion.

     2. Finding new solutions to inclusion health challenges

ICSs generally face challenges meeting the health and care needs of socially or economically excluded people. This is especially true of systems that already experience high rates of economic or social deprivation. Meeting the needs of people who are socially excluded and may experience multiple overlapping risk factors as a result, is particularly challenging from a population health perspective as they may be inconsistently accounted for in health databases.

To address these groups, ICSs must work to build information-sharing relationships with third-sector organisations and local groups who may offer services to socially excluded individuals and build relationships with the communities and individuals themselves. This work should also involve regular assessments of the impact of information sharing on health outcomes among these populations. Constant collaboration with partners and stakeholders to adjust the collection of information and the provision of care and outcomes should also be prioritised.

     3. Developing novel approaches to information

Building out a network that includes partners and stakeholders engaged with underrepresented and/or excluded groups and individuals is one means to improve access to data. However, the utilisation of new forms and sources of data will also be a key consideration for ICPs. For instance, ICPs may consider exploring a ‘whole-family’ approach to care, where the knock-on impacts of health within family units are considered within a strategy.

Strategies for the use and integration of new information should also be developed in conjunction with partner organisations and designed to address the particular needs of a system. However, it is key that frameworks for information sharing remain consistent to improve collaboration between ICSs.

     4. Utilising all levels of ICS functions

Often, individuals or organisations will be better served by engaging with an ICS at the neighbourhood or place level. This is particularly important when health inequalities are considered, as outcomes may drastically differ within a health system and a lack of engagement with health authorities may serve as a blocker to the delivery of improved outcomes to a vulnerable group. Accordingly, ICPs should ensure that well-developed strategies are in place to engage at these levels, and form insights that can inform work at the neighbourhood, place, and system level.

     5. Provisioning for social care

The adult social care landscape contains a diverse range of providers. Many are small enterprises which may have competing priorities, but these organisations nonetheless have close ties to the communities and individuals they serve. They may also provide care to individuals whose needs are misunderstood or not met in traditional health care settings. As such, they are an incredibly valuable resource to ICPs, particularly those keenly engaged with finding solutions to the health inequalities faced by the socially excluded.

It will be crucial that ICPs do not come to speak for these providers, but rather serve to connect them to a broad network of information-sharing that can simultaneously improve their provision of care and deliver insights to improve health outcomes elsewhere. ICPs should, therefore, prioritise outreach to adult social care providers for the delivery of short-term solutions to health inequalities.