Care groups fail to integrate

    Care groups fail to integrate

    Four out of 10 social services representatives on the boards of
    primary care groups and trusts have “little or no influence”,
    according to research carried out for the Department of Health.

    Although the government encourages PCGs and PCTs to work in
    partnership with hospitals, councils and the voluntary and private
    sectors in developing and commissioning services, progress so far
    is “disappointing”.

    According to a joint report by the National Primary Care
    Research and Development Centre and health think-tank the King’s
    Fund, failings were most notable in the fields of learning
    difficulties, mental health and older people’s services, where
    health authorities still played a major role with social services
    departments.

    “The evidence of actual progress in joint commissioning
    activities with social services, even in respect of priority groups
    such as older people, was disappointing,” says the survey.

    Social services representatives cited obstacles to partnership,
    including PCGs’ and PCTs’ preoccupations with clinical matters, the
    dominance of a medical culture and service models, lack of time,
    and differences in funding and budget streams.

    “This is not to suggest they’re not doing anything,” said report
    co-author and NPCRDC project director Professor David Wilkin.
    “You’ve got organisations struggling with limited capacity to meet
    a wide-ranging agenda.”

    The report confirms the impression of GP-dominated
    organisations. PCGs were created in 1999 to promote greater
    collaboration between health and social care providers, in a move
    to improve efficiency and achieve more seamless care, especially
    for vulnerable groups. They were expected to evolve over time, with
    all PCGs becoming PCTs by April 2004.

    However, the survey finds that only one-fifth of PCGs placed
    integration of health and social services among their top three
    reasons when asked why they sought PCT status.

    With the NHS Plan envisaging that PCTs could become care trusts,
    with a remit to commission and be responsible for all local health
    and social care, the report casts doubts on successful partnership
    working between health and social care.

    Although a small number of groups and trusts in the survey had
    expressed interest in seeking “early care trust status”, there was
    “no evidence” that their partnership work was any more advanced
    than other groups and trusts. “There is a long way to go to realise
    the ambitions for a fully integrated service as envisioned in the
    NHS Plan,” says the report.

    “Some people are talking of care trusts as a way of vaulting
    PCTs’ obstacles,” said report co-author and King’s Fund director of
    primary care Dr Steve Gillam. “But they’ve got to have a clear
    understanding of what they want to do it for.”

    National Primary Care Research and Development Centre and King’s
    Fund, The National Tracker Survey of Primary Care Groups and Trusts
    2000-1, from 0161 275 7126 or www.npcrdc.man.ac.uk

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    New joint posts announced

    The government is to appoint new regional directors of health
    and social care from April 2003 as part of its drive towards more
    closely integrated services.

    NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp said the new post-holders and
    their staff would have responsibility for overseeing “the big
    issues” in health and social care. The directors will come under
    the Department of Health umbrella and will work with the 30
    proposed new strategic health authorities. Though how they will
    work with local authority social services departments remains
    unclear.

    Speaking at a conference of NHS managers in Manchester last
    week, Crisp stressed the importance of devolving decision-making
    and developing primary care trusts as “the building blocks for the
    future.”

    But later he ducked a question which sought clarification on how
    new care trusts will fit in with primary care trusts. “There is
    still some policy work to be done around care trusts so I’d rather
    not say anything about that at the moment,” he said.

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