Chris Netherton, M.D.

Integrated Healthcare - The Next Frontier

For some time now, the focus of healthcare strategy in the UK has been on promoting integration of patient care.

To date, most of the work to promote integrated care has focused on bridging the gaps between health and social care or between primary and secondary care. As a leading supplier of clinical IT systems, Microtest has been at the vanguard of this drive towards integration and our award winning Guru has a significant part to play in delivering this.

GP Connect will further accelerate integration of healthcare in the UK over the coming months.

Now as we look to the future, we are focussing on the next frontier.

£11 billion

Mental health conditions among people with long-term physical health problems and poor management of ‘medically unexplained symptoms’ are costing the NHS £11 billion a year.

The NHS five year forward view has highlighted an extremely important ‘third dimension’ – bringing together physical and mental health.

Efforts to develop integrated care should focus more on the integration of physical and mental health, addressing four major challenges:

High rates of mental health conditions among people with long-term physical health problems
Poor management of ‘medically unexplained symptoms’, which do not have an identifiable physical cause
Reduced life expectancy among people with the most severe forms of mental illness, largely attributable to poor physical health
Limited support for the wider psychological aspects of physical heath and illness
Failure to address these issues increases the cost to the NHS of providing services – the first two alone cost the NHS in England more than £11 billion a year.

The need to stretch limited budgets has long been a challenge for the NHS. However, this challenge is now set to intensify. The shock to the economy post the Brexit vote is leading to the likelihood of further cuts to public sector spending. Meanwhile, we have already seen the pound plunging in value, which will increase the cost of many drugs as well as have other negative effects on the NHS.

In this context, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of looking closely at all areas where cost savings can be made.

Of course, economic factors are not the only reason for highlighting the importance of integrating physical and mental health. Clearly, improved patient outcomes is paramount. However, with the multiple challenges facing today’s NHS, the prospect of cost savings is an important driver.

This is a massive challenge for the NHS in the UK and it will involve wide reaching policy changes. We are likely to see pilot sites testing new models of care and integrated service models, including skills transfer between professionals. We may well see changes to curriculums in Royal Colleges and other bodies, so that all health professionals develop core understanding of both physical and mental health. We are likely to see commissioners adopt new approaches to payments and contracting methods, so as to overcome some of the current barriers to integration.

As a supplier of IT software, we have already undertaken significant work in integrating our products with mental health systems and want to lead the way in this area. We are also exploring innovative ways technology can help increase the integration of physical and mental health.

We see this as one of the most significant new healthcare developments to happen over the coming decade and we are looking forward to making a positive difference.