Old and new will bring value to the table - but not all need a seat at it

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25 / 1 / 2013

Health and wellbeing boards should take advantage of the experience and connections of established providers of health and care-related services, as well as be open to innovative contributions from new ones if they want to be successful at improving the health outcomes of their communities, according to new report.

But they should tailor their engagement programme to local priorities, using different tools and models at different times, rather than fix rigidly on one structure or process, says the report, which draws on the experiences and learning of local authorities, health providers and commissioners.

The new publication, Stronger together: how health and wellbeing boards can work effectively with local providers, says health and wellbeing boards are unlikely to produce a comprehensive Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) or successfully deliver a Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS) unless they involve and engage local providers, many of which already have strong relationships with service users.

Outlining the benefits for health and wellbeing boards' engagement with providers, the report says health organisations can contribute valuable local knowledge and insights, helping to identify shared priorities for JHWSs that are achievable and relevant for local communities.

The report also explains the significant contribution which provider engagement can make to service integration. By developing strong, interactive engagement with providers rather than interfacing with them solely on a contractual basis, the report says, health and wellbeing boards can effect an integrated approach to service delivery. It further warns that if boards do not make use of the opportunity to engage with providers to understand and influence service delivery, a prime chance to lead and drive integration across the whole system will be lost.

The report sets out a 12-point framework for building health and wellbeing board and provider engagement. Elements include:

  • involving providers in determining engagement approaches, to ensure they work for the wide variety of size and type of provider
  • using informal peer to peer relationships, which can be as effective as formal mechanisms for engagement and involvement
  • establishing sub-committees, time-limited working groups and appointing provider representatives rather than offering permanent membership to so many providers that the health and wellbeing board becomes unwieldy
  • supporting the development of links between providers and local Healthwatch, to facilitate local communities' and service users' opportunities to get their voices heard.

Jo Webber, interim director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said:

"Local communities, their health needs and priorities vary widely across England, and the services which best meet these needs will vary as much, so it's obvious that no 'one size fits all' approach for health and wellbeing boards to engage effectively with local providers will suffice.

"Over the past year (with funding from the Department of Health) we've produced a toolbox of resources to support newly-established health and wellbeing boards. With this latest publication, all the learning and advice from those with direct experience of engaging with health service providers - from big acute trusts, community service providers, and voluntary sector organisations - is being shared throughout the system, so the new boards can make use of the best tools for their local needs."

Stronger together: how health and wellbeing boards can work effectively with local providers, was developed as part of the National Learning Network for health and wellbeing boards, a programme funded by the Department of Health and supported by the NHS Confederation, the Local Government Association and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, to share learning and support the establishment of well functioning boards.

The report distils the learning from 22 in-depth face-to-face interviews with health and wellbeing board members and  health service providers, an online question-and-answer session hosted by the Local Government Knowledge Hub, and a face-to-face discussion session at the NHS Confederation's annual conference in June 2012.

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