WA was delighted to host a panel session with Dr Layla McCay, Director of Policy and NHS Confederation and Mike Bell, Chair of NHS South West London integrated care board (ICB) and WA Health Senior Adviser.
At the session, WA’s Head of Health, Dean Sowman, explored Layla and Mike’s perspectives on how the life sciences industry can meaningfully engage with, and play a role in delivering integrated care systems (ICS) priorities.
In light of a 30% cut to operating budgets and industrial action absorbing the bandwidth of executive teams, ICSs are currently heavily focused on short-term operational priorities. We have outlined five key factors to engage effectively against this backdrop:
1. ICSs are delaying some action until the general election
Whilst both the Labour and Conservative parties have communicated support and optimism for ICSs, the reality is that political uncertainty and operational pressures mean that many ICBs have little bandwidth to implement their ICB led five-year joint forward plan.
Instead, ICSs are increasingly deferring important decisions until there is a stable administration which can ensure the preservation of essential funding and objectives. The overarching concern is that the exact vision of ICS working to respond to local population needs will be overshadowed by national pressures.
Whilst this is a considerable challenge, the take home message for organisations looking to engage is the importance of timing ─ the hope is that following the winter period, which is a particularly politically sensitive time, ICSs will have greater bandwidth to begin to implement their strategies.
2. There’s no shortcut to engaging with all ICSs, and no one-size fits all approach
When looking to secure policy changes, there is currently no shortcut to speaking to all 42 ICSs. We are starting to see some ICSs coalescing or developing strategic multi-ICB structures where some ICBs lead on certain workstreams on behalf of others. This trend is likely to become more commonplace – so engagement may become more streamlined in the future.
3. Medicines optimisation and management is a priority with positive examples needed
One key barrier to ensuring medicines optimisation is that current financial models are created to show benefits to local service providers – some of which are not covered by ICS budgets. There needs to be an overhaul of where the service is delivered, where the money flows and where the savings are realised. While there is clarity on this being a problem – at present there is no solution.
NHS Confederation would welcome examples of impactful collaborations between ICSs and industry as there is currently a shortfall of tangible examples.
4. New evidence and ideas to support the delegation of specialised commissioning are welcomed
The delegation of specialised commissioning to ICSs remains a concern. Prescribing budgets will remain with NHS England, but services deemed ready for integration will be delivered locally. There are outstanding questions as to whether individual ICSs are equipped with the right workforce and expertise, and what multi-ICB structures could be formed.
This is especially pertinent in the case of rare diseases. Given their low prevalence in local areas, rare diseases are unlikely to be a core focus for ICSs, as evidenced by WA’s analysis which found that just five of the ICB five-year plans featured rare diseases.
However, there is optimism that the transfer of specialised commissioning responsibilities offers the opportunity for a reset. If done right, it could ensure the repurposing of specialised commissioning budgets across the whole pathway, challenging local systems to reduce spend on tertiary services, and instead finding new ways to act earlier.
5. Understanding where each ICS is placing strategic emphasis is critical
Each ICS is at a different stage of maturity and there is distinct variation in size, scale and local characteristics, meaning a one-size fits all approach to engagement will not work. As a first step, understanding where you may wish to begin engagement and how to frame this in line with local priorities is essential.
At the end of June 2023, 40 of the 42 ICBs had published their five-year joint forward plans setting out their strategic vision to tackle the health issues faced by their local population.
To support industry, WA has undertaken an in-depth analysis of the plans to create an interactive map showing the level of priority each ICB is placing across 27 themes. Understanding the ICBs that are prioritising your areas of interest, can support you in identifying meaningful collaborations and partnerships aligned to an ICB goals.
About WA Communications
WA Communications is an integrated strategic communications and public affairs consultancy. Our specialist health practice supports clients across a diverse range of diseases at the intersection of policy, government affairs and communications, to achieve their strategic objectives.
If you would like to discuss how to best work in partnership with Integrated Care Systems, and our analysis of their key areas of focus, contact Lloyd Tingley at email@example.com.