19 February 2020

Integrated Care Systems have a unique opportunity to bring mental and physical health together in an equal partnership to deliver better health for all, according to a briefing paper from Centre for Mental Health, published today.

Integrated Care Systems and mental health sets out how improving population mental health can prevent other health problems and make the whole NHS more effective and efficient. It shows how Integrated Care Systems can make a difference in their areas, for example by supporting action to prevent mental health difficulties and by providing much-needed emotional support to people with physical health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Integrated Care Systems bring together NHS trusts and commissioners with local authorities to plan health and care services in geographical areas across England. Each covers a population of about one million, and many are already making detailed plans to change health and care services in their local areas.

Integrated Care Systems and mental health argues that they will not be able to achieve lasting improvements in population health or efficiencies in health and care systems without a focus on mental health. Poor mental health is often a cause of physical health problems, for example, and at least a third of people with a long-term physical illness also have a mental health difficulty. Integrated Care Systems can bring partners together locally to ensure that people with mental health difficulties get better help for their physical health, that people with physical illnesses have access to emotional support, and that people are no longer admitted to hospitals far from home for a mental health emergency.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Integrated Care Systems are taking on a huge responsibility for health and care services across the country. They have a big task ahead. It will be all too easy to put mental health to one side and default to leaving it on the margins. Yet systems that put parity for mental health at their heart will ultimately be more efficient, more effective and more equitable. They can help to bring about a decisive shift in our health system towards prevention, early intervention and a whole person, whole population approach to care.

“For Integrated Care Systems to fulfil that potential, they will need to establish equal partnerships between NHS and local government members, listen to a wide range of voluntary sector bodies, reach out to communities to understand what will help them to enjoy better health, and build the health and care workforce to meet the needs of the future.”