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The NHS will set out the next steps for how primary care networks will work with partners across newly formed integrated care systems (ICSs) to meet the health needs of people in their local areas.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard has asked Dr Claire Fuller, Senior Responsible Officer of the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System and a practising GP, to set out how systems can accelerate implementation of the primary care, out of hospital care and prevention ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan and drive more integrated primary, community and social care services at a local level.

Dr Fuller’s work will take a view on how services should develop, as well as setting up the most promising next steps in the short-term. She will describe the next steps by March 2022, ahead of ICSs becoming statutory organisations in April 2022, as government legislation proposes.

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Dr Fuller will look closely at how primary care networks can support ICSs by bringing partners together at a local – or ‘place’ – level to address health inequalities and improve the health of the local population.

Using a population health management approach to better understand the specific needs of local communities, primary care networks will play a pivotal role at ‘place’, helping the NHS work with wider partners, to take collective responsibility for people’s health and wellbeing.

The rollout of the most successful and fastest vaccination programme in NHS history has been based on close working between primary care, hospitals, local communities and others, and this can be a springboard for how other services should be delivered through these partnerships.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Partnership working has been at the heart of the remarkable NHS response to the pandemic and has helped us to deliver the most successful vaccination programme in our history – with millions of people protected from the virus at speed.

“The time to lay the groundwork for statutory Integrated Care Systems is now and it is vital that we ensure primary care is embedded at the heart of their development before they become statutory organisations in April as the proposed legislation sets out.

“I have seen first-hand how integrated care means better patient care – whether it be in Reigate where the local vaccination clinic is offering blood pressure checks to people being jabbed or in Bradford where they are teaming up with local schools to provide children with mental health support.

“I am delighted that Dr Claire Fuller will be driving this work forward, the examples seen in her local area show how partnership working particularly between GP practices and wider partners can deliver better experiences for patients.”

Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System has been at the forefront of showing how better partnership working can make a difference to patient care.

Dr Claire Fuller, Senior Responsible Officer for the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System, commented: “I am delighted to have been asked to lead this work, and to use our experience locally to help systems across the country.

“As a GP, I know only too well the importance of supporting people in the widest sense. Patients who come to my surgery might present with a medical condition but so often this is exacerbated by other factors; financial concerns, housing issues, poor air quality and so on.

“Our primary care networks are perfectly placed within communities to bring together the right partners to tackle these ‘wider determinants of health’. This is about working collectively to support our most vulnerable citizens and to reduce the inequalities in health we know exist for many communities.”

The NHS Long Term Plan outlined how ICSs would be central to its delivery by bringing together local organisations to redesign care and improve population health, creating shared leadership and action.

ICSs aim to improve the health of all residents, better support people living with multiple and long-term conditions, and tackle variation in care. They bring together the NHS, local government and other organisations including the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors. They will also work alongside Primary Care Networks (PCNs).

Earlier in 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published an important whitepaper, which detailed proposals for NHS and social care reform, with a focus on collaboration between the NHS, local government, and delivery partners, as well as making ICSs statutory.

Throughout the pandemic, the NHS and councils have been working with assistive technology service providers to ensure people can live independently in their own homes.

At a time where face-to-face contact needed to be reduced in order to curb the spread of the virus, this joint-up working proved invaluable and ensured people got the equipment they needed to remain independent. It also eased pressure off health and social care professionals, where many staff members were redeployed to help deal with COVID-19 pressures.

For example, recently, Wirral Council announced it would be working with community equipment and telecare provider Medequip and care technology specialist Alcuris to deliver next-generation preventative telecare services to Wirral residents.

Movement sensors, placed within the home, will enable family members and support services to detect activity and ensure the safety and wellbeing of people. Smart plugs will help to indicate whether devices like microwaves and kettles are being used to ensure that vulnerable people are eating and drinking.

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