How integrated care systems can enhance workforce collaboration and improve patient care

integrated care systems

By Paul Walker | 17 June 2021

The recent whitepaper from the Department of Health and Social Care ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all’, released in February this year, set forth a number of key points, most crucially a ‘duty to collaborate’. A plan for integrated and seamless care – of the workforce, the service, the health of the nation – is a welcome step towards efficient and effective practice.

Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are not new; at Skills for Health, we have been involved in developing and implementing integrated systems for education, patient care, and workforce management for nearly two decades. The events of the last eighteen months have simply proven the need and catalysed a switch to fully integrated working. The efforts made at every level of organisation – within and beyond NHS England – to maintain a functional and effective health service through many unprecedented challenges has shown that it can, in fact must, be done.

The white paper set out some specific requirements for the future of integration and innovation in the health service, namely:

  • Working together: a direct response to the level of collaboration within the NHS and all of its supporting organisations that we’ve seen throughout the pandemic. We already knew that healthcare professionals are good at pulling together in emergency situations; what we did not know is that in a national emergency of threat to public health, everyone would go above and beyond to keep the NHS safe. The public feeling of needing to support the people on the front lines of healthcare reinforced the morale of a critical infrastructure. Every member of the team, from those working in hospitals to their supporting infrastructures, management structures, educators, organisers, suppliers and supply chains, social and primary care providers, made it possible for us to work seamlessly throughout the pandemic.
  • Reducing bureaucracy – a mixed positive result of the pandemic was that we saw just how quickly things could happen when they needed to – a prime example was the threat of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage. NHS suppliers normally have to navigate a lengthy, inefficient tender process. Being able to condense and bypass some of the more abstract bureaucratic aspects of product acquisition meant that the NHS was able to garner support from some surprising sources, with top fashion houses turning their factories over to support the NHS i.e. gowns. Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) with the power to assess, plan, and implement bespoke solutions for local health and care needs are already building on positive changes within the NHS.
  • Improving accountability and enhancing public confidence – Accountability, transparency, and audit are usually cited as the driving force behind bureaucracy; we now have evidence that the NHS can function safely and effectively with a more streamlined approach to audit. Technology is naturally moving us onto more efficient methods of monitoring workforce and clinical outcomes, with inbuilt accountability and audit trails. With improved monitoring and management tools, it is going to be easier to oversee the service as a whole, creating a seamless service, trust-to-trust.

What is an Integrated Workforce?

We talk a lot about multidisciplinary care in the NHS, but there are traditional limits to this; we’re generally good at care planning with a cross-specialty team with a specific objective in mind, but there’s a bigger picture to consider. A truly integrated workforce means coordination and collaboration across every level of an organisation, and between individual organisations. When health and social care professionals work together across the boundaries of location, specialty, level and traditional NHS trust borders, we can have truly collaborative, co-ordinated implementation of healthcare, both as a structure and at point-of-care.

How can we implement integrated workforce planning?

Skills for Health have created tools to facilitate integrated workforce planning within the NHS. This includes a competency assessment and array of educational and training tools, with auditable and renewable progress for staff from all disciplines. An electronic rostering system for medical staff, nursing teams and more that works alongside an understanding of competencies and requirements means that the right people are at the right place, at the right time. This is essential not only for good patient outcomes, but for the staff experience.

What is the role of workforce research in integrated care systems?

Workforce research and labour market intelligence are key to identifying trends, deficits, and need for change within a workforce structure. With data-driven evaluation, organisations can plan ahead and anticipate the needs of the workforce and public.

What does integrated care mean for leadership?

Integrated care, in an integrated workforce, supports leadership at all levels within the larger team. A leadership based on knowledge and understanding of the needs of an organisation, where a management structure is truly co-ordinated and meshed with the whole team. Planning and implementing positive change within an integrated structure is an effective and efficient process, ultimately improving patient care and public health.

How can organisational development initiatives and ICSs work together to improve cross-system working between NHS and Social Care?

ICSs – effective partnerships within and between the organisations that deliver health and social care – require planning and coordination, shared decision-making, with an overarching goal of the best quality care at a local and national level. Scaling up Workforce Planning for Integrated Care Systems using Skills for Health’s Six Step Methodology to Integrated Workforce Planning is a simple method for ensuring a scalable workforce with an appropriate skill mix:

  1. Defining the plan
  2. Mapping service change
  3. Defining the required workforce
  4. Understanding workforce availability
  5. Planning to deliver the required workforce
  6. Implement, monitoring and refresh

We believe that an integrated workforce and integrated care systems are inseparable, and that with the right platform, based on real-time data and auditable outcomes, we can help to facilitate a truly joined-up NHS.

The aim of the NHS remains the continued improvement of health and wellbeing in society, and an integrated approach is the logical next step in the journey towards the pinnacle of public health.

Find out more about Integrated Care Systems:

Integrated Care Systems: FAQ

Integrated Care Systems Infographic

Integration, Collaboration, Transformation: Our consultants address 3 key questions

Integrated Care Workforce Solutions

Leading Integrated Systems of Care

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Skills for Health are dedicated to support the healthcare sector in implementing integrated care systems for enhanced workforce planning and improved patient care. Get in touch to discuss your organisational needs for integration and speak to one of our workforce experts.


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