Integrated Care Systems – a chance to change pain

By Steve Dechan

You may have seen that the Government recently released a White Paper on the NHS – it promises the biggest reform of the NHS since the 2012 reforms under David Cameron. Largely, it sets out to undo most of the localised structures that the Cameron reforms ushered in. Clinical Commissioning Groups are set to be scrapped, alongside the principle of competition and executive control over NHS England by the CEO. Indeed, if passed, more power will be sent back to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

This in itself is a major move which will enable policy leaders in Whitehall to act with greater speed and nimbleness in implementing large scale health policy agendas. We already know that the Government is keen to push through a clear obesity strategy using these revitalised powers, so there is no reason why a plan on chronic pain should not also be given the same treatment.

Chronic pain management can benefit from the other major reform of the planned changes: Integrated Care Systems (ICS). Integration will be the new guiding principle of the NHS, with ICS structures seeking to bring together acute, primary and wider services under one body. No longer will a CCG put contracts out to competition, but instead existing NHS structures will be expected to collaborate together in order to provide a service.

This has exciting potential to improve the management of chronic pain in the UK. Right now, we know from speaking with people living in pain, that NHS pain management services are usually used as the last stop for the patient. The GP and the pain specialist simply do not talk and or move swiftly, if they are integrated it would save a great deal of suffering and some key resources in the meantime. The current system is a jarred, tangled, pathway in which pain patients can often feel lost. Integrating care and focusing on increased collaboration can only be a positive step in bringing together primary care services and specialist pain management structures.

Let’s wait and see how this plays out.