The integration of health and social care in Scotland is widely recognised as the biggest change in a generation to how services are delivered. It is a huge opportunity to create radical change, innovate and deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes for those accessing services based on a set of admirable principles. But principles must be put into action.
Furthering the integration agenda is a priority at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE). We work hard to develop and shine a light on good practice, with our members and in partnership.
One example is our new strategic partnership with the Scottish Library and Information Council, with whom (and NHS Scotland) we have created A Collective Force for Health and Wellbeing. This is an action plan committing libraries, health and social care and the third sector to transform the way we work.
As well as this collaboration, we promote the work of other organisations across Scotland that demonstrate positive partnership working. Our new ALLIANCE Live platform hosts fortnightly webinars showcasing the most innovative and impactful examples of integration. From detailing the Scottish Government’s draft framework for integration, to talking with an Aberdeenshire mental health charity about their journey to integrated working, we keep our finger on the pulse and bring the latest news to the fore.
We also run regular updates on best practice in integration across the country in our Integration Stories initiative.
For this platform, we heavily research the integration landscape, uncovering the partnership initiatives that make a difference to the lives of those accessing services. We must not forget that integration is not just about services; it is about building relationships and teams to better serve those who access them.
Ultimately, people are at the heart of integration and we must all put them front and centre when designing partnerships. For health and social care professionals, sharing examples of integration in action is a must. Talking about best practice and challenges creates learning, provides inspiration and sparks ideas for future partnerships. With ALLIANCE Live and Integration Stories we have opened up a space for discussion around integration and are deliberately not shying away from the more testing elements of partnership working. The future of integration rests on all of us taking a proactive approach.
A prominent theme in our integration research is that of trust. It is the cornerstone of an effective partnership. Those working in integrated teams speak of the importance of face to face contact, relationship building on a daily basis and open communication. Just as important is ensuring that the third sector and public bodies come together on a level playing field.
The legislation that underpins integration came into being in 2016. Since then, we have seen strong examples of integrated working that forward a person-centred and rights-based approach, but we still have far to travel.
The integration agenda is complex, challenging and multi-faceted. The ambition is huge. But we should not be afraid of change and we see organisations embracing that change on a regular basis at the ALLIANCE. Teams up and down the country are finding new ways of working that change the landscape of how services are being delivered.
Integration can breed innovation, prompt invention and ask us to be ambitious in our approach. When services come together, people are better served. We see such ambition in our members’ projects, like those of Macmillan Cancer Support, Penumbra and Versus Arthritis, to name a few. Each of these organisations have developed unique partnerships with public bodies like the NHS, councils and the police to provide outstanding services.
We are still on this journey, and every instance of integration is another positive step forward.
As we approach the 2021 election, we need to amplify the national conversation about building a fully integrated, streamlined health and social care system. We absolutely believe that more partnership working between the public and third sectors is possible and needed. We at the ALLIANCE remain committed to integration.
We will continue to champion best practice and highlight challenges in order to positively impact on integration as it develops.
Prof Ian Welsh OBE, chief executive, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE).