The NHS of the future – the vital role of communities

You might have noticed that yesterday the NHS released its Long Term Plan, which sets out its ambitions for the next 10 years. It has been put together with the help of contributions from many organisations, including FaithAction and our members.

And it’s not all done and dusted – the next step is for local areas to come up with their own plans for how to put the new measures into place. This means that there are still opportunities for voluntary organisations to shape what happens next.

If you’re really keen to read the whole plan (over 130 pages!) you can find it here – but you might want to start with this two-page summary (pdf).

What are some of the headlines? Well, the plan recognises that the NHS of the future will need to operate differently.

There needs to be much more joining-up of services: of primary care and specialist care, physical and mental health services, and health with social care. This will happen through Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), which should be in place everywhere by April 2021.

There’s a recognition in the plan that some groups of people are much more likely to have poor health outcomes than others and that we need to do better at assessing and responding to this. As a condition of receiving Long Term Plan funding, all major national programmes and every local area in England will have to set out specific goals and mechanisms for narrowing these health inequalities.

“Through social prescribing the range of support available to people will widen, diversify and become accessible across the country. Link workers within primary care networks will work with people to develop tailored plans and connect them to local groups and support services.”

People will also need to do more to look after their own health and they’ll need help to do that. There will be a focus on things like helping people give up smoking, preventing diabetes, reducing obesity, managing asthma, having healthy pregnancies and easy access online support with common mental health difficulties. Social prescribing is one way that communities can support people to stay healthy – this is being expanded around the country.

The important role of communities and the voluntary sector is also recognised in the plan. They will be expected to be part of local ICSs, as well as measures to narrow health inequalities – because they are often working with the groups who are most in need. They’ll play a crucial part in keeping pressure off hospitals – something FaithAction has highlighted previously.

“The NHS will continue to commission, partner with and champion local charities, social enterprises and community interest companies providing services and support to vulnerable and at-risk groups. These organisations are often leading innovators in their field. Many provide a range of essential health, care and wellbeing services to groups that mainstream services struggle to reach.”

Of course, there is much in the Long Term Plan that we already knew – measures that had previously been announced. And there’s much that we don’t know yet, with the long-delayed Green Paper on social care still to be released, and a Government Spending Review coming up. It’s also unclear from the plan who precisely will fund and deliver the prevention of ill-health. Public health is currently the responsibility of local authorities, but budgets have been cut. Nevertheless, this is an exciting time to be involved in helping to shape the health and care services that will keep our communities healthy – we will keep you posted!

About Rodie Garland

Policy Adviser

Rodie is FaithAction’s Policy Advisor. She leads on parts of FaithAction’s programme of work for the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England – especially on our Faith and Public Health research and on Friendly Places. She also works on our FaithLab initiative to collect evidence of good and innovative practice from faith groups in addressing social problems.