Plans to integrate health and social care undermined by public distrust, MPs warn

Government plans to integrate health and social care in England are in danger of being undermined by public distrust and suspicion, MPs have warned.

The Commons Health and Social Care Committee said ministers had failed to set out a “clear and compelling explanation” of what their reforms were intended to achieve.

With a rapidly ageing population, the committee said effective integration between health and social care was essential to ensure better value for taxpayers and a better experience for those who used their services.

However, it said the scale of the Government’s ambition for reform were not matched by either the time or resources required to deliver them.

It said the NHS was currently in “survival mode”, with plans for change too often constrained by the need for upfront funding.

The difficulties were exacerbated by a lack of proper public understanding of what the reforms were trying to achieve.

The committee called on ministers and health service leaders to take “proactive steps” to dispel what it said were “misleading assertions about the privatisation and Americanisation of NHS”.

It said: “Understanding of these changes has been hampered by poor communication and a confusing acronym spaghetti of changing titles and terminology, poorly understood even by those working within the system.

“This has fuelled a climate of suspicion about the underlying purpose of the proposals and missed opportunities to build goodwill for the co-design of local systems that work more effectively in the best interests of those who depend on services.

“National and local leaders need to do better in making the case for change and how these new reforms are relevant to those who rely on services.”

The warning comes as Theresa May is expected to announce a significant increase in funding for the NHS to coincide with the 70th anniversary of its foundation in July.

Ultimately, the committee said, the NHS required both dedicated national financial and leadership support to enable it to “transform at pace”.

“The NHS is currently in survival mode, with NHS providers struggling to recruit, train and retain staff and balance their books, while maintaining standards in the face of relentlessly rising demand,” the report said.

“A long-term funding settlement and effective workforce strategy are essential not only to alleviate immediate pressures on services, but to facilitate the transition to more integrated models of care.”

The committee chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said: “It is the triumph of our age that more people are living longer, but as MPs we too often see our constituents, their families and their carers grapple with local services that may be poorly organised around their needs and struggling to cope with the rising demand for care.

“As the NHS approaches its 70th birthday national leaders, and politicians from across the political spectrum at national and local level, must help to make the case for change to the public.

“Any effort to transform care will flounder and lose support unless it can demonstrate that patients and their families will benefit.”

The Department for Health and Social Care said integrated care did not threaten the founding principles of the NHS which remained free at the point of use.

“Integrating care is about bringing services together, so people’s care is coordinated around them,” a spokesman said.

“We remain committed to being open and transparent with the public and we will consider this report and work with the NHS to respond in due course.”

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