The term ‘integrated care’ covers a number of different models of care, however what they all have in common is that there is a close collaboration between NHS organisations, local councils and other providers (charities, not-for-profits, private companies) for planning and delivery of healthcare. Integrated care can cover NHS care, including community care, urgent and emergency care, primary care (GP surgeries), and hospital care, and council services, including social care and public health.
Previously, models of integrated care have been discussed using several different names including accountable care organisation (ACO), integrated care organisation (ICO) and integrated care system (ICS). NHS England abandoned the term ‘accountable’ in 2017/18 and in the NHS Long-Term Plan published in January 2019 only uses the term integrated care system (ICS) as a broad term to cover integrated care development.
Current controversy for the development of ICS revolves around the presence of private companies on the boards' that control the ICS and the large size of the ICS, which reduces local input to healthcare.
Integrated care is a complicated area, this page aims to answer some common questions on this area.
The Health & Care Bill 2021 currently going through Parliament (September 2021) should make Integrated Care Systems into statutory bodies. There have been amendments to the bill and updates can be found in The Lowdown, including the following articles:
Integrated Care Q&A
Integrated care is a concept which encourages organisations to work together under a single plan. It can involve sharing budgets and merging functions, but it is not a new concept and many countries have been experimenting with it in their healthcare systems.
The NHS has been working on various forms of integration within certain geographical areas for many years. What is different now is that according to the NHS ten-year long-term plan released in January 2019, the development of integrated care is the top priority and integrated care systems (ICS) must be in place across England by 2021.
One source of confusion when discussing integrated care is the plethora of terms used, including accountable care organisation (ACO) and system (ACS), integrated care organisation (ICO), and multispeciality community partnership (MCP).
In the long-term plan, NHS England refers to integrated care systems as a catch-all term that covers a range of integrated care models that are in development.
The January 2019 NHS long-term plan had as a key component the formation of around 42 integrated care systems (ICS) across England. In this document NHS England use ICS as a more general term to cover several forms of integrated care.
All forms of ICS, according to NHS England, should involve NHS organisations, local authorities and other non-NHS organisations providing health and social care, working more closely together. By April 2021, England had been divided into 42 ICS areas of varying size and population levels.
The White Paper Integration and innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all, published in February 2021 contained proposals to establish ICSs as statutory bodies in all parts of England. Under the proposals, a statutory ICS would be led by two related entities operating at system level – an ICS NHS body and an ICS health and care partnership.
The ICS NHS body will be responsible for NHS strategic planning and allocation decisions, and accountable to NHS England for NHS spending and performance within its boundaries. It will be governed by a unitary board which will be directly accountable for NHS spend and performance. The board will include a chair, chief executive, representatives of NHS trusts, general practice and local authorities, and others. CCGs will be abolished, with their functions and most of their staff transferring into the ICS NHS body.
The ICS health and care partnership will be responsible for bringing together a wider set of system partners to promote partnership arrangements and develop a plan to address the broader health, public health and social care needs of the population. Membership of the Partnership Board will be determined locally, with representatives of local government, NHS organisations, social care providers, housing providers, independent sector providers, and local Healthwatch organisations.
ICS areas are massive often covering over 1 million people, as a result NHS England expects these areas to be broken down into smaller units within which providers and commissioners will integrate care. It has proposed a three-tiered model of systems, places and neighbourhoods in its guidance on ICSs.
Neighbourhoods (populations of around 30,000 to 50,000 people): served by groups of GP practices working with NHS community services, social care and other providers to deliver more co-ordinated and proactive services, including through primary care networks (PCNs).
Places (populations of around 250,000 to 500,000 people): served by a set of health and care providers in a town or district, connecting PCNs to broader services, including those provided by local councils, community hospitals or voluntary organisations.
Systems (populations of around 1 million to 3 million people): in which the whole area’s health and care partners in different sectors come together to set strategic direction and to develop economies of scale.
The white paper proposals are in the Health and care Bill 2021 currently progressing through parliament and are planned for implementation in April 2022.
NHS trusts and foundation trusts will continue with their current duties, but will also be expected to collaborate to a much greater extent with other organisations. They will have representatives on the ICS NHS Body and form collaboratives with other providers in the ICS. There will be a new duty to collaborate with local partners and a shared duty to promote the triple aim of better health, better care and lower cost.
NHS Providers are expected to join provider collaboratives. These will vary in their scale and scope. Some will be ‘vertical’ collaboratives involving local acute, primary, community, social care and mental health providers coming together to integrate their services and others will be ‘horizontal’ collaboratives involving providers working together across a wide geography with other similar organisations. All NHS providers will need to join a provider collaborative, and individual providers may be involved in more than one.
Private providers will be expected to be part of provider collaboratives, but it is very likely that no private company will be allowed to have a representative seat on an ICS board.
1. Why rush forward with integrated care systems (ICS) and integrated care providers (ICPs) when there is yet to be any real evidence that they will work? It is only 7 years since the last major re-organisation, which has been widely criticised.
2. Why continue to allow private companies the opportunity to take control of such a major role? Their record in running NHS services included many examples of contracts that have failed. If this is not the intention why not just rule it out completely.
3. If ICPs are given a fixed budget under their contract, what happens when they run out of money, who goes without care and how is this decided?
4. ICPs are destined to fail unless proper funding is restored, the same is also true of any other form of integration.
5. Does this version of integration really fit with the key principles of the NHS - e.g., How can we make sure that healthcare remains free at the point of use, when more of it will be provided in the community where means-tested social care already exists?
6. There are concerns that the current form of ICS development will reduce local input into decision-making. The Health & Care Bill 2021 going through Parliament (September 2021) makes clear that each ICS will be able to establish its own constitution – opening up the probability of wide variation in the extent to which ICSs opt to devolve decision-making down to more local level.
The STP (sustainability and transformation partnerships) plans published in 2016 initiated the development of integrated care systems (ICS) across the country.
In January 2019, the new NHS long-term plan announced that by 2021 all of the NHS in England will be developed as integrated care systems (ICSs), with approximately 42 ICS. These ICS will develop out of the STP areas.
Although all of England has now been divided into 42 ICS areas of varying sizes, as they have no statutory basis, at the moment they exist only as voluntary partnerships between providers and commissioners. It is also unclear whether much integration has actually taken place.
In June 2020, The Lowdown trawled through all 18 ICS websites available to see if there was evidence of life, and found little of interest. Then three months later in October 2020 there was still nothing new on most of the websites. Nothing new on the website's for Frimley Health and Care, an ICS that was considered to be advanced in development, or Dorset, and little of significance from Buckinghamshire; Oxford and Berkshire West; North East and North Cumbria; South East London (no meeting since January); South West London (still looking back to its 2016 STP); Suffolk and North East Essex; Sussex, or Surrey Heartlands.
Hertfordshire and West Essex's ‘News Page’ advertises a “next event” as NHS Day, July 5 2019, and while there is a general newsletter for Hertfordshire, the West Essex newsletter has not appeared since May 2019. South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw has by far the slowest responding website, which eventually confirms that its Collaborative Board still has not met since October 2019 and – as of the last update back in June – there are no meetings or events planned.
Humber Coast and Vale features a 1-page general statement on “Our commitment to engagement”, but this is not linked with any evidence of engagement. “Upcoming events” sum up: “no events.” Glouscestershire's ICS website is still locked in a timewarp, featuring its best-forgotten Sustainability and Transformation Plan from 2016.
Lancashire and South Cumbria, covering five trusts, eight CCGs, four upper tier local authorities and twelve district councils is honest enough to admit that it’s all top secret:
“The ICS Board does not meet in public and the papers are not publically available, at this time. However the ICS Board will review this again in 2020. Key messages from the meetings will going forwards be shared on this page and are available below.”
These “key messages” turn out to be vague and evasive descriptions of discussions (in secret) on documents and policies we are not allowed to see.
West Yorkshire and Harrogate's website carries video and documents from a Partnership Board meeting in September 2020, but the discussions are at such a level of generality that there is little to indicate any new ground is really being broken by this ICS.
Greater Manchester has finally added an October meeting to its events page and a few details about its July meeting. It’s a far cry from the ambitious pronouncement that: “We want to keep everyone up to date with Greater Manchester’s devolution plans as they unfold. Here on our public meetings and events page, you can quickly find information on upcoming board meetings (which anyone can attend), as well as download papers from previous sessions. So you can see what’s going on, where and when…”
In the NHS long-term plan published in January 2019, NHS England talks of integrated care systems (ICS) being either delivered:
- locally through collaborative arrangements between different providers, including local ‘alliance’ contracts;
- or, with one lead provider given responsibility for the integration of services for a population. In this case a new Integrated Care Provider (ICP) contract will be used.
An ICP generally refers to a care model where healthcare is run under a single contract by a single organisation. The contract could be awarded following a competitive tendering process. This process is open to all organisations - NHS, for-profit private companies and third sector organisations.
Despite the long-term plan stating:
“We expect that ICP contracts would be held by public statutory providers.”
There is no legislation at present that prevents an ICP contract being awarded to a private for-profit company. So an ICP contract could effectively hand over the legal responsibility for provision of universal healthcare in an area to a private company.
Furthermore, there is no limit on how much of an ICP’s work could be sliced off and profitably sub-contracted to private corporations.
Two judicial reviews were brought against NHS England in relation to the contract, but both were dismissed.
When the Health & Care Bill 2021 began its passage through Parliament campaigners highlighted the possibility of private providers having a seat on ICS boards and thus an influence over commissioning. In May 2021, it came to light that local managing director Julia Clarke was already listed as a member of the Partnership Board, the unitary Board which currently runs the ICS covering Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire (BSW).
After vigorous campaigning by organisations and amendments tabled by the Labour Party for changes to the Health & Care Bill 2021 so that private companies could not have representatives on Integrated Care Boards, eventually in September 2021 Health Minister Edward Argar agreed to table a government amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would prevent private interests from being on any Integrated Care Board. This has now been confirmed in the published report of the First Sitting of the Bill Committee on September 7.
It is not clear in the long-term plan, published in January 2019, how funding for integrated care systems will be organised.
It is possible that the holder of an ICP contract will be provided with a fixed or capitated budget. From this budget the contract holder will have to provide (either by itself or via sub-contracts) all health and social care required in its area under the contract.
This type of contract in other areas of the world, including the USA and Spain, where they are known as ACOs (accountable care organisations), often allow the holder of the contract to keep a certain percentage of unspent budget or ‘profits’. In theory, this type of profit-sharing incentive is meant to lead to efficiencies and a focus on improving population health to reduce costly procedures, in particular hospital care and A&E admissions.
In February 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care published the White Paper Integration and innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all, which sets out legislative proposals for a health and care bill. The white paper contained proposals to get rid of the competition rules introduced in the 2012 Health & Social Care Bill which led to an increase in outsourcing.
The proposals also include a range of measures intended to support integration and collaboration. At the heart of the changes is a proposal to establish ICSs as statutory bodies in all parts of England. Under the proposals, a statutory ICS would be led by two related entities operating at system level – an ‘ICS NHS body’ and an ‘ICS health and care partnership’ – together, these will be referred to as the ICS.
By September 2021 the Health & Care Bill 2021 was progressing through Parliament.
Originally the government had intended to introduce primary legislation for integrated care, but it changed these plans after the 2017 election substantially weakened its Parliamentary position. Subsequently it has been trying to proceed by changing regulations (secondary legislation) - leaving many of the existing organisations and structures in place, however the legality of this approach has been challenged.
In order for an fully integrated care systems (ICS) to be put in place a new contract needed to be available for the commissioners to use. In August 2017, a draft integrated care provider (ICP) contract was published, designed to allow Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to choose to commission ICPs in their areas.
This contract publication was followed by a two month consultation on the draft contract. At this point it became clear that before the contract could be used, secondary legislation would be needed to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
At the start of January 2018, the secondary legislation needed was expected to be put in place in February 2018 thereby allowing the first ICPs to start in April 2018. However, in January 2018 Sarah Wollaston MP chair of the Commons Health Committee wrote to Jeremy Hunt asking that any moves to implement ICPs be paused pending further consultation. Prior to this legal challenges to the setting up of ICPs had been filed. Both the letter and the legal challenges resulted in a delay to the legislation.
In late January 2018, Jeremy Hunt wrote to the chair of the Commons Health Committee saying that the ICP contract implementation would be paused allowing for more consultation. NHS England was forced to conduct further public consultation work on the ICP contract.
NHS England's consultation opened 3 August 2018 and closed 26 October 2018.
From the January 2019 NHS long-term plan, it is clear that there are still legislative issues surrounding the development of ICS and ICP. NHS England called upon the Government to amend legislation in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act to allow providers, such as trusts and other organisations, to be able to collaborate. The request includes introducing legal “shared duties” for clinical commissioning groups and NHS providers on outcomes and finance and allowing foundation trusts to create joint committees, allowing “the creation of a joint commissioner/provider committee in every integrated care system”.
In other areas of the world, Accountable Care Organisations operate with a capitated or fixed annual budget that allows the providers to retain and share any savings made. It is unclear how budgeting for integrated care systems and integrated care providers will operate as yet, but a fixed budget is a possibility.
This type of approach has led to concerns that services will be rationed either because the budget provided is just not enough to provide all universal healthcare services or, and this is particularly pertinent if the contract holder is a private company, to produce savings to increase the amount of budget that the providers can retain as profit.
Rationing services also encourages people to seek private alternatives, which in turn reduces the budget spend under the integrated care system, potentially leading to higher ‘profits’.
Two judicial reviews were brought against NHS England in relation to the development of the integrated care provider contract (a new contractual form allowing commissioners to award a long-term contract to a single organisation to provide a wide range of health and care services to a defined population), with campaigners arguing that this could lead to health and care services coming under the control of private companies. The two judicial reviews were both dismissed.
The legal challenges were as follows:
999 Call for the NHS
The campaign group 999 Call for the NHS, backed by law firm Leigh Day, lodged a judicial review in October 2017. This claims that the contract for accountable care organisations breaches the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
The papers claim that the formation of ACOs breaches section 115 and 116 of the 2012 Act, which relate to the price a commissioner pays for NHS services and regulations around the national tariff.
The campaigners’ case argues that under current legislation, prices paid for NHS services must reflect how many patients receive the care under that specific service, whereas the ACO contract allows commissioners to give providers a fixed budget for the population in the area.
The judicial review was given permission to proceed in late December 2017 and it was heard 24 April 2018.
The Judge Mr Justice Kerr ruled that the court did not find anything unlawful with the payment mechanism proposed by the ACO contract.
The judgement said that the objection in the case was a political objection to the payment mechanism and therefore it "is not a matter for the court.”
The second application for a judicial review was lodged on 11 December 2017 by Dr Graham Winyard, Dr Colin Hutchinson, Allyson Pollock and Sue Richards, and Professor Stephen Hawking, under the campaign name JR4NHS.
The academics are working with Harrison Grant Solicitors and Nigel Pleming QC to argue that introducing new commercial, non-NHS bodies (ACOs) to run health and social care services without proper public consultation and without full Parliamentary scrutiny would be unlawful. They argue that the consultation procedure around the ACO contract was insufficient.
In early July 2018, the judge, Mr Justice Green, ruled that the policy was “lawful” however the health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt was “under a duty” to consider criticism against ACOs when it goes to public consultation.
The High Court held that the policy falls within the “statutory powers of a clinical commissioning group” and is “not contrary to the ‘commissioner-provider split’ under the National Health Service Act 2006”.
The campaign has decided not to appeal the decision.