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ICBs to lead Labour’s primary care reform

ICBs to lead Labour’s primary care reform
By Jess Hacker
21 April 2023

Integrated care boards (ICBs) will lead on Labour’s new ‘neighbourhood health service’ plan for the NHS, which would see a greater focus on healthcare delivered out of hospital in community settings, Wes Streeting announced today.

Outlining Labour’s plan for primary care reform at the King’s Fund think tank, the shadow health secretary laid down a number of pledges to ‘create more front doors into the NHS’ and widen the number of professionals available to patients.

The new Labour promise would see the number of district nurses qualifying every year doubled, double the number of medical school places, and see 5,000 new health visitors trained after the Conservative cut their numbers by a third, he claimed.

And the party last week announced it would introduce ‘thousands more GPs’, funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status, to some scepticism from general practitioners.

The shadow health secretary added that while training staff would take years, with Labour pledging to ‘create more front doors into the NHS’ to more quickly free-up GP time and move more care into communities.

This would include giving opticians the power to refer patients to eye specialists, rather than via a GP, and to allow community pharmacies to offer vaccines currently only available at GP surgeries.

Mr Streeting stressed that these proposed changes were not about more structural changes. ‘Shuffling the deck chairs won’t stop the ship going down,’ he said.

He commented: ‘Integrated care boards are well placed to drive this shift towards neighbourhood health care; they don’t need a new government coming in to pull the rug out from underneath them.

‘It’s the ‘where’ and the ‘how’ of healthcare that needs reform,’ he said, ‘and that’s what Labour is committed to doing’.

He also condemned the ‘obsession with simply pouring more money into hospitals’, adding that the primary care system must be reformed to free up secondary care’s capacity.

However, primary care leaders have previously shared concerns that the new ICB restructure resulted in a loss of clinical leadership.

When asked if he believed ICBs had sufficient primary care clinical leadership to reform the sector, he told Healthcare Leader it was ‘early days,’ and that each ICS was working at a different pace.

‘The clinical voice is important in terms of system planning a local level. I would also say that – as I saw York earlier this week – the best GPs are leading from below, and are coming up with answers and solutions.’

He said he believed that ‘a lot of the answers are there to be found within the profession and within professional leadership from below’.

He also assured that Labour does not plan to ‘upend ICSs that have barely begun settling’.

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