Local authorities and health boards are joining forces to deliver more care in the community from 1 April to ease the pressures on Scottish hospitals struggling to cope with a growing elderly population.
Audit Scotland had warned the new joint boards could put patient care at risk due to staff confusion over strategy and difficulties agreeing budgets.
Dr Anne Hendry, national clinical lead for integrated care, told a conference in Edinburgh yesterday integration could not afford to fail.
Dr Hendry, a consultant geriatrician for NHS Lanarkshire, said: “The alternative to integration is not an option. Professionals from all backgrounds and sides need to work together as the current situation is not working.
“I think this is our only hope.”
She said medics “need to get out more” to see different specialties at work, particularly between primary care and doctors working in hospitals.
Concerns have been raised over shortages of social care ahead of the changes as more than 270 people died while waiting for social care packages to start in 2015, according to research by Motor Neurone Disease (MND) campaigner Gordon Aikman.
Previous attempts at integration failed because hospitals were receiving high levels of funding, leaving them without impetus to act, said Dr Richard Simpson, Labour’s public health spokesman.
Dr Simpson, a GP and psychiatrist, said: “Now we are in a time of austerity so there is no choice. If we do not do this then everyone knows the system is going to crumble. Management failed to support this last time and it failed. What we need now is support from the front line.”
He also warned of the “cultural gap” between medical and social care systems.
The Scottish Government recently announced £250 million to support the plans for integrated care.
Health secretary Shona Robison said she had dreamed of integration when she worked as a home care organiser in Glasgow in the 1990s.
Ms Robison added: “The fundamental realignment of resources will build the capacity of community-based services and be the most significant reform of healthcare since the creation of the NHS in Scotland.
“It will mean that fewer people need to go to hospital and when hospital is necessary, people will return home more quickly.”