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Hunt: NHS has 'responsibility' to help councils

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The NHS has a “responsibility” to help councils cope with their “tough financial settlement”, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Mr Hunt made the comments in a speech at the national children and adult services conference in Manchester yesterday.

“We prioritised the NHS by protecting its budget, which meant tougher settlements for other departments including local government,” he said.

“But the interconnected relationship between the services we both offer to vulnerable people means that we in the NHS have a responsibility, as we move to fully integrated services, to help you [in local government] deal with a tough financial settlement.

“If we operate in financial silos, the costs will be higher for both of us.”

During the speech Mr Hunt said there would be “no sustainable future for the NHS without a sustainable future for social care” and there would be “no sustainable future for social care without a strong NHS”.

He said: “That’s why the better care fund has tremendous strategic importance and it’s right that we celebrate its early success.”

It came as the government announced that councils and CCGs forecast savings worth half a billion pounds under the better care fund.

Mr Hunt said the fund, a £5.3bn pooled budget between councils and the NHS to join up health and care services, was “not peripheral, but central to the kind of change we want to see in our NHS and social care system”.

He said the publication of the NHS five-year forward view last week “talked about inspiring new models of out-of-hospital care, exactly the change people have been arguing for here for many years”.

The health secretary said the government’s role in the better care fund would be to produce “no grand blueprints” and “no structural shake-ups”. Instead it would “enable, champion and, yes, fund your endeavour”.

Mr Hunt also called for joint commissioning, using a model similar to that employed for the better care fund, to be adopted more widely for commissioning children’s services and public health, as LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal reported this week.

Asked about the role of health and wellbeing boards, Mr Hunt said the bodies had “proved their value in the last couple of years”.

Speaking at the same conference, communities secretary Eric Pickles said there was an “enormous” amount of distrust between councils and NHS organisations.

“The amount of distrust and arguments between local authorities and the NHS is enormous. It is a proper clash of cultures. It works if you enter into a proper partnership,” he said.

Mr Pickles said some in the NHS believed councils would spend health budgets on filling in potholes or building an extension to the town hall. He said the “vast majority” of councils would not do this.

However, Mr Pickles also said the better care fund was a “once in a generation opportunity” and added that he was “genuinely excited” about it.

“There were sceptics that said it [the better care fund] wasn’t possible,” he said. “It’s on track and set to begin.”

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