History has been made today (1 April 2016) when Greater Manchester became the first region in England to take control of its spending on health and social care.
37 organisations in the region, including local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, NHS England and hospital and ambulance services have formed a single group, the Greater Manchester Strategic Partnership (“GMSP”) which will decide how much money is spent on each local service. The move takes the power from Westminster and puts it in the hands of locals, who should recognise the individual needs of their local communities.
The £6billion budget given to the GMSP is part of a wider government initiative to devolve more powers to local councils. It is hoped that by devolving the provision of health care, pressure can be eased on hospitals, with more care being provided in the community or in people’s homes. Allocating funds on a local level should, in theory, mean that health care is tailored to the population, with services being integrated and budget’s shared to achieve the region’s goals. For example, regions with higher numbers of elderly residents will have the opportunity to focus money in that field, as opposed to applying a general national policy that might not fit it’s demographic.
Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council which forms a part of GMSP, has said that the region’s budget could be used to help improve the life expectancy of those living in Greater Manchester which, he says, is not good enough. He said “lots of people suffer from long-term illness and we’ve got ambition to do something about their health … but it’s wider than health we want to do something for the economy”.
The use of the word “ambition” is key to this initiative however. GMSP is the first partnership to adopt this model and will very much be the guinea pig in the experiment. If it is not successful in improving healthcare, reducing the strain on hospitals and other NHS services, and improving care for the elderly, then the government and country as a whole are likely to deem the initiative a failure. GMSP has a lot of work to do.
Whilst the organisations behind GMSP have been carefully selected to best represent the needs of the region, with no individual service in mind, it cannot be ignored that each organisation forming the partnership will have competing interests. The local authorities are likely to want increased funding for social care, whilst the ambulance services will argue that that money would be better employed to support acute care. Are GMSP budget meetings therefore likely to mirror a parliamentary debate, where decision making is long and fraught with difficulty? Will decision be made quickly enough to be effective, or even at all? Watch this space.