Matthew Winn explains the aims of the newly established Community Network that includes the NHS and not for profit organisations providing community health services.
The Prime Minister has promised a new long-term funding settlement, one which it is hoped will include social care as well as healthcare, and across the country local systems are moving towards true integration, with old boundaries and barriers being moved aside.
The first wave of integrated care systems have nearly gone live, promising to effectively link up GP, community health, mental health and hospital services resulting in better outcomes for local residents. Optimistically, one could say that the new future of the NHS is being forged before our eyes and it is essential that all players have an input and a voice to make sure we reach the best outcomes for patients – and that must include the community health sector.
In its Way of life report in 2015, NHS Providers concluded: “At its heart, the NHS is looking for a new intimacy in its approach which brings care and support into peoples’ private domains. The NHS is seeking to be invited to be guests in the everyday lives of people rather than only being there for when things go wrong. This is what community healthcare services excel at.” Therefore the sector needs a clear policy focus and providers need the infrastructure to ensure all patients and their families get the care they deserve in people’s homes and from local neighbourhoods. Lord Carter’s upcoming report is likely to encourage the better use of community, mental health and primary care services to support out-of-hospital care in order to make the whole of the health service more efficient.
That is why now is the perfect time to launch the new Community Network, which will be a powerful national voice for the community services sector.
Established jointly by the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, it will have a strong emphasis on promoting the interdependency between community services and all health and care sectors. The Community Network, which meets for the first time this week, will be home to NHS and not for profit organisations providing NHS community health services, such as combined community and acute and mental health, community trusts and community interest companies.
The staff and service provided by these organisations are often called the glue of the NHS – binding together the services and organisations around local residents. One pound in every ten spent by clinical commissioning groups is for community services and the sector has over 100 million contacts with patients every year. There are 136 NHS providers registered with the Care Quality Commission to deliver community health services and encompasses everything from community nurses and health visitors to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, consultant palliative care and geriatricians, school nurses, podiatrists, speech and language therapists and many more professionals straddling children and adult services.
The Community Network will not be isolationist, with all members fully supportive of integrated care and the tearing down of organisational boundaries that have often got in the way of innovation and good patient care before. However given that national planning and rhetoric often ignores community health provision, the new Community Network will articulate and promote the role of community services in the development of the NHS as it implements the integration ambitions set out in the Five Year Forward View.
We expect to positively influence national thinking concerning the future role of community services whilst at the same time developing a network that supports providers and one that they feel they equally own and are committed to. Working alongside regulators and arms length bodies and other representative groups, such as the National Association of Primary Care, the Community Network should provide the ideal place to develop solutions to issues relating to population health and prevention.
At a time when the NHS and social care needs strong voices and unity to help shape the future, it is exciting news that community providers across the country will now have a strong voice to speak up for them.
Matthew Winn is chief executive Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust. Follow him and the trust on Twitter @WinnMatthew @ccs_nhst
This post first appeared in the Health Service Journal.