MPs will probe how existing integrated health and social care schemes can be protected during the government’s radical overhaul of the NHS in the coming years.
The House of Commons health select committee will examine the issue as part of an inquiry on commissioning, which will run alongside a separate public spending probe that will look into how social care can cope with cuts of up to 33% from 2011-15.
The two inquiries, which will run concurrently, are designed to feed into the autumn spending review, which will set public spending allocations, and the government’s consultation on its health White Paper, published this month.
The White Paper has significant implications for joint working. Primary care trusts will be abolished and their commissioning responsibilities transferred to GP consortia, potentially breaking up existing arrangements between councils and PCTs such as care trusts or pooled budgets. On the other hand, integration will be promoted by a new statutory role for local authorities to lead joint working locally.
Health committee chair Stephen Dorrell said he wanted to see safeguards put in place to protect best practice examples of integrated working between local authorities and the NHS that had improved commissioning locally.
He said he was concerned that otherwise these might disappear during the transitional process leading up to the new health commissioning model in 2013.
Dorrell warned that allowing these examples to disappear could damage the development of joint working.
He said: “If we throw all the cards up in the air again and have to reinvent versions of operation that exist and work well for health and social care we are stepping backwards in the belief that we might step forwards.”
Regarding the second inquiry on public expenditure, Dorrell said he wanted to understand the impact on social care of the government’s commitment to increase NHS spending in real terms from 2011-15, which entails larger cuts to social care than would otherwise be the case.
He said: “We shall be looking very specifically at what the impact is of the government’s spending round on social care and also on the resource allocation to social care and the impact on health spending.”
The terms of reference for the two inquiries preclude the committee from looking into the funding of long-term care, an issue Dorrell has signalled he wants to look at, but he added that he hoped the committee would come to it “sooner or later”. The government set up a commission to look into the future funding of long-term care last week.