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Creating a Holistic Healthcare Landscape: Challenges of Integrated Care Systems

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First of all, let’s clarify what Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are; the biggest legislative overhaul of the NHS in a decade, putting them at the centre of NHS operations. Almost a year ago, in July 2022, coverage by ICSs ranged from 500,000 to 3 million people across the 42 area based ICSs which England was formally divided into.

ICSs aim to bring together various healthcare organisations and providers to improve coordination, communication, and overall healthcare delivery. While ICSs have the potential to enhance patient outcomes and streamline services, they also face several challenges and problems that could hinder their effectiveness. Some of the key issues associated with ICSs include poor coordination between systems, inadequate communication, insufficient resources and challenges in information exchange.

Which healthcare organisations are included within Integrated Care Systems?

ICSs involve multiple healthcare organisations, including hospitals, primary care providers, mental health services, social care agencies, and community-based organisations. Achieving seamless coordination and collaboration between these diverse entities can be complex and challenging. Issues such as conflicting priorities, differing organisational cultures, and fragmented governance structures could impede effective coordination within ICSs, leading to fragmented care delivery and suboptimal patient outcomes.

Communication breakdowns and lack of effective information sharing could undermine the functioning of ICSs. Different healthcare providers may use incompatible information systems or have varying levels of digital maturity, making it difficult to exchange vital patient information in a timely and secure manner. Inadequate communication channels and protocols could lead to delays, errors, and misunderstandings, negatively impacting patient care and continuity.

Image which displays all partner organisations within integrated care systems

What challenges are Integrated Care Systems facing?

ICSs often face resource constraints that limit their ability to deliver comprehensive and integrated care. Limited funding, workforce shortages, and disparities in resource allocation among participating organisations could undermine the sustainability and effectiveness of ICSs. Inadequate resources may hinder the implementation of necessary infrastructure, workforce development, and support services, ultimately impeding the seamless integration of care across the system.

What’s more, the NHS is expected to feel the impact of rising inflation, despite recently being granted an additional £1.5bn was allocated to systems in May 2022 to cover costs. To match the plans set out in the spending review 2021, the government would have to top up spending by at least £2.4bn by 2024/25.

The exchange of patient information is crucial for effective care coordination and continuity within ICSs. However, interoperability challenges and data privacy concerns could impede the secure sharing of information across different systems and providers. Variations in data standards, data governance frameworks, and legal requirements pose significant barriers to seamless information exchange, hindering the ability to create a comprehensive view of a patient's health and care journey.

To learn more about the challenges ICSs are facing download your copy of our white paper below.

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