Why the Health and Social Care Bill matters (more than the Localism bill?)

*UPDATE* a follow up article to this post can be found here

We expect the Health and Social Care Bill to be published next week – probably Monday 17 January. It won’t receive the same attention in local government circles as the localism bill, but it should do. Of course the localism bill is seen as being the big event – the relationships between councils and communities are shifting, the planning system transformed, a new general power of competence put on the statute book. But the reforms that will be set out in the health and social care bill will transform the health service, with major implications for councils and local communities. So local government should take notice – this bill is not marginal at all.

What will the impact be locally of the new GP consortia – responsible for around 80 per cent of the total health budget? Can councils build relationships with a group of professionals not used to ‘facing outward’; how effective will the health and wellbeing boards be in pulling them in? How will councils relate generally to a new type of health service – with less emphasis on the ‘national’ and more on competition, with local semi-autonomous trusts and a myriad of new providers? What will local government’s role be – in scrutinising the new local health landscape, in influencing service configuration, in bringing together health, social care, GPs and councils to transform commissioning of health and wellbeing services? And, of course, to take on new responsibilities for public health and health improvement.

Health may not be at the very top of local government’s agenda, but it is very much so in the minds of local people and the media. The reforms present councils with big opportunities – particularly those to public health – but there are risks here too. If councils are to be given a stronger role in overseeing the health and wellbeing of their communities and in providing more democratic accountability to what is presently undemocratic and opaque, and to deliver in the worst public spending climate for decades. then they will need to be smart and innovative, bold and focused. Surely, given this context, the Health and Social Care Bill deserves as much attention as the localism bill over the next few months?

Janet Sillett is the LGIU’s Briefing Manager