NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has confirmed that BCWB is one of 13 areas in England to be formally designated an ICS from April 1.

ICSs bring together hospital, community and mental health trusts, GPs and other primary care services with local authorities and other care providers.

This has already been happening across the BCWB region, however the announcement formalises this arrangement further. 

Jonathan Fellows, Independent Chair to The Black Country and West Birmingham STP, said: “I am delighted with today’s announcement, which formalises the existing collaborative working across health and care in the Black Country and West Birmingham.

"Now, more than ever before, local people need us to work together to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, to address the health inequalities that exist and to ensure that we improve the health and wellbeing of local people. The creation of our ICS will mean we are best placed to do this.”

Announcing the decision at a meeting of ICS leaders, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Partnership working has been at the heart of the NHS’s remarkable response to the coronavirus pandemic and the huge success of the NHS vaccination programme. 

“Now GPs, hospitals, pharmacists, local authorities and community groups have come together to deliver COVID jabs to more than 22 million people in a matter of weeks.

“We have seen what the NHS pulling together can do in the most testing period in the service’s history. The establishment of ICSs across the country will help to ensure that agile approach and can-do attitude endures beyond the pandemic.”

The NHS Long Term Plan said Integrated Care Systems would be central to its delivery by bringing together local organisations to redesign care and improve population health, creating shared leadership and action.

ICSs exist to improve the health of all residents, better support people living with multiple and long term conditions, preventing illness, tackling variation in care and delivering seamless services while getting maximum impact for every pound. They bring together the NHS, local government and other organisations including the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sectors.

While the geographical boundaries for the individual systems may evolve during 2021/22 to enable co-terminosity between the NHS and local government, the structures will enable health and care organisations to join forces and apply their collective strength to addressing their residents’ biggest health challenges, many made worse by COVID-19. Health and care leaders have said this will be more important going forward as we address health inequalities and tackle issues around mental health and obesity.

The Government has set out a White Paper which will build on recommendations from NHSEI to remove current legislative barriers to integration across health and social care bodies, and foster collaboration between NHS and local government organisations. This reflects the thousands of views received from every part of the health and care system and the public as part of recent engagement on what local leaders need.

Dale Bywater, Regional Director for NHS England and Improvement in the Midlands, said: “Better joined up health and care systems mean improved, more easily accessible services for the people of the Midlands. The partnerships formed over the last four years will translate into better frontline care and we look forward to strengthening those relationships further.

“We just want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to make this a reality, especially over the last extremely challenging year.”

The Healthier Futures STP has been working hard to break down barriers between organisations and improve care. A key example is our shared digital inclusion work during the pandemic, which saw our partners working together to launch a suite of digital innovation for patients.

As well as virtual clinics and GP appointments, we have begun direct access booking via 111, remote monitoring of patients in care homes and in their own homes, pulse oximetry at home, virtual wards and reducing direct contact in care homes. Over 2,000 patients have already benefited.

Our system is now focusing on eliminating digital inequality with a triple aim: to address access to kit, access to connectivity and access to skills. Healthier Futures has co-designed with West Midlands colleges an accredited course in using digital apps for the public, we are working with tech companies to recycle and gift IT kit and are with telecommunication companies to gift unused data to those who need it in our communities.

To learn more about our Healthier Futures ICS, visit its website.