The Health and Care Bill received its Royal Assent yesterday and has officially become the Health and Care Act, as the government continues to battle the aftermath of the pandemic and the long-term issues the health sector faces.
The new Act marks a major milestone in the road to recovery and aims to ensure the NHS can rebuild from the pandemic and tackle the Covid backlog, ultimately harnessing the best ways of working to ensure people are benefitting from more joined-up care.
The Act will be the most significant legislative change in health in a decade, with the government continuing to build on NHS England’s Long Term Plan and incorporating the valuable lessons learnt during the pandemic.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The Health and Care Act is the most significant change to the healthcare system in a decade and will put it in the strongest possible position to rebuild from the pandemic, backed by our record funding.”
He added: “These measures have broad support and will harness the best ways of working to ensure people are receiving high quality, joined up care.”
As part of the measures to deliver more joined up care, every part of England will be covered by an Integrated Care System (ICS), with the purpose of bringing together the NHS, local government and wider system partners to put collaboration and partnership at the heart of healthcare planning.
Somerset Integrated Care System has already rolled out innovations such as a 24/7 helpline that directs people looking for mental health support to services across the voluntary sector, social care and NHS. The initiative looks to bring together doctors, nurses, psychologists and charities through a shared system for recovery and care planning, allowing all the professionals involved in a person’s care the ability to communicate with each other.
The Act introduces a range of measures that the government say will:
- Level up health disparities in oral health and obesity through making it simpler to add fluoride to water in more areas across England, and regulating unhealthy food and drink advertising.
- Make services safer by establishing the Health Services Safety Investigations Body, an independent public body which will investigate incidents that have implications for patient safety and help improve systems and practices.
- Crack down on the use of goods and services in the NHS tainted by modern slavery and human trafficking with a view to ensuring that the NHS is not buying or using goods or services produced by or involving any kind of slave labour.
- Ensure the health and social care workforce have the right skills and knowledge to provide informed care to autistic people and people with a learning disability by making specialised training (the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training) mandatory by law.
- Support victims of abuse and respond to recent child safeguarding tragedies by committing to looking at information sharing in relation to the safeguarding of children, and requiring Integrated Care Boards to set out any proposed steps to address the particular needs of victims of abuse.
- Safeguarding women and girls by banning the harmful practices of virginity testing and hymenoplasty.
- Introduce regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures and improve the regulation of medical professions.
- Address the barriers to joined up working, by supporting data sharing between health and social care and removing barriers in the hospital discharge process, reducing unnecessary delays for patients.
- Remove needless bureaucracy in the system, allowing staff to get on with their jobs providing the best possible treatment and care for their local populations. It also ensures that the NHS is fully accountable to parliament and the public, while maintaining the NHS’s clinical and day-to-day operational independence.
- Explicitly set out the parity of mental health and physical health and ensure transparency around the spending allocated to mental health support.
- Support the government’s ambitious adult social care reforms, by creating the right framework for assuring, funding and sharing data on social care, to enable individuals to maintain their independence for longer.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive said: “The Covid pandemic has shown what can be achieved when we work together across NHS teams, organisations and systems with our partners in the care sector and beyond, and these reforms will help us to deliver for patients and their families.”
She added: “As the NHS works flat out to recover services and address the Covid backlogs that have inevitably built up during the pandemic, these reforms will accelerate the changes set out in the NHS Long Term Plan that are already giving people greater choice, better support and more joined up care when they need it.”
The Act will be backed by £36bn over the next three years through the Health and Care Levy, as the government continues to strive for their long-term goal of ensuring that health services have the resources needed to provide world class care up and down the country. To achieve this, they have set out three key aims for reform, which are a focus to reform; a commitment to delivering more personalised care and to continue to improve healthcare performance.
More information about the Act can be found here.