Many of the emerging integrated care system leadership teams I have met are, quite rightly, focusing on the front end of their new systems. ‘Population health management’ is the critical component part of a system of accountable care (whatever you call it). Get it right and the flow of patients, money and logic all seem remarkably well connected.
This front end though also exposes the limitations in purely thinking with an NHS hat on – after all, the research and evidence surrounding the social determinants of health are not new and do not need repeating. Talking the language of prosperity can help us bridge this gap.
One ICS I am supporting has grasped quickly that the more prosperous it helps make its local population, the less it will see of them (in a nice way, of course). The system leaders have established an economic growth sub-group, reporting in directly to the joint ICS leadership board and focused on several areas where local partnership working can unlock some of the economic and social value traditionally hidden away deep within the health and care sector. In local GVA terms, this value is significant too.
Their immediate areas of focus include workplace wellbeing, inclusive growth, skills, local expenditure and innovation. Let’s choose just a couple of these to make the point.
With last year’s government industrial strategy highlighting our productivity problem and record employment levels showing how competitive the marketplace is, the biggest employers in any region will now be prioritising retention. Keep the workforce and keep them happy. Not forgetting our own significant staffing numbers, this presents a great opportunity to motivate industry to play much more of a leading ‘health’ role across our populations.
Then there is the issue of our supply chains. What do we buy? Who do we buy it from? Where do we buy it? Answering these questions across a place, rather than just within an institution, can soften the difficult NHS transition away from simply purchasing on price, partly because local partners are on hand to explain where the benefits flow and where revenue, for example, is raised elsewhere.
Lastly, the use of innovation in a population health management context is interesting. There is scope here for a much more focused development and use of new medtech and digital tools to simultaneously help understand our local population health needs, better enable self-care at scale, foster local business scale-ups in associated areas and position partners for the new research funding landscape. A win for the health and care sector, its partners and more generally the place.
When seen in isolation little of this is new. Perhaps what has been missing is the ability to focus so many minds locally on a common goal: making an area as prosperous as it can be.
Michael Wood is Local Growth Advisor at the NHS Confederation. Follow him on @NHSLocalGrowth