Honest review leads to areas for improvement in Northumberland's care system

Patients in Northumberland are largely positive about their care, but more needs to be done to ensure services are coordinated, joined-up and integrated.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 15th April 2019, 10:02 am
Updated Monday, 15th April 2019, 10:04 am
Integrating health and social care relies on a number of organisations working together.
Integrating health and social care relies on a number of organisations working together.

That’s one of the lessons that has come out of an initial assessment of the county’s health and social care system, which relies on various NHS bodies and the county council all working together.

As previously reported, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator for the sector, carried out an initial series of targeted reviews of local health and social-care systems, to consider how services meet people’s needs, focusing on those over 65.

The overall findings from the initial 20 reviews were published in July last year and an update to Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board in January set out the main findings of this report and its implications.

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Council and health leaders were told that while it is not known whether or not Northumberland will be the focus of one of the CQC’s next round of local service reviews, it had been decided to prepare for one given that it will help improve the county’s system anyway.

At its meeting last Thursday (April 11), the health and wellbeing board received another update now that the initial assessment has taken place, which involved a user and carer survey, a detailed review of a number of specific cases and a staff survey.

This has resulted in four main areas where there is scope for improvement, backed by nine recommendations:

Coordinating care – The most repeated theme was that for complex users who required care from multiple agencies, there was a danger that they ‘fell through the gaps’ due to the lack of clear approach to the broad coordination of care.

Communication, technology and data sharing – Issues such as different IT systems and concerns about data protection were highlighted as significant barriers to providing person-centred integrated care.

Organisational relationships, integration and risk management – Relationships between the agencies which make up the system are generally good, but there is opportunity for further development, investment and improvement.

System-wide shared strategy and planning – More work is required to adequately assess the strategies, planning, policies and ways of working which underpin the health and care system in Northumberland.

Claire Riley, director of communications and corporate affairs for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, welcomed the report as it highlighted ‘what’s happening up and down the country’, adding that ‘if anywhere can deal with it, then I think it’s Northumberland’.

Coun Scott Dickinson said: “It’s a very helpful list of bitesize recommendations that are also reviewable. If Northumberland did have a local system review, it’s good this board and partners being front-loaded with this information, because part of it is about honesty and understanding.”

Dr Jane Lothian, medical secretary at Northumberland LMC (local medical committee), added: “Speaking from a primary care point of view, this really articulates the problems, but none of this is new and the problems we are pointing out have been around for some time.”

She explained that some of the issues were down to ‘organisational behaviour’, while others related to much wider perceptions of how health and social care should be delivered.

The next step is to draw up an action plan so that all partners can take the recommendations forward and the health and wellbeing board should receive an update later in the year.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service