The government has formally announced plans to reform the NHS in a bid to deliver a more joined up health and care system.

The white paper, which was leaked earlier this week, details plans to embed lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and make legislative changes to reduce red tape around procurement and data sharing.

It will “modernise the legal framework” to make the health system “fit for the future”, according to a Department of Health and Social Care statement.

The plans follow health secretary Matt Hancock’s ‘bureaucracy-busting mission’, which aims to improve the use of data within the NHS and would see the health service capitalise on “good practice” responses during Covid-19.

These new proposals would see integrated care become the default and would enable the NHS to use technology in a modern way to support staff and patient care, including improving quality and availability of data, the DHSC said.

“The NHS and local government have long been calling for better integration and less burdensome bureaucracy, and this virus has made clear the time for change is now,” Hancock said.

“The proposals build on what the NHS has called for and will become the foundations for a health and care system which is more integrated, more innovative and responsive, and more ready to respond to the challenges of tomorrow, from health inequalities to our ageing population.”

He suggested the plans would enable the Conservative party to deliver on election promises including 50,000 more nurses and 40 new hospitals.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, added: “Our legislative proposals go with the grain of what patients and staff across the health service all want to see – more joined-up care, less legal bureaucracy and a sharper focus on prevention, inequality and social care.”

Under the plans Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) would be enshrined in law with every area in England covered by a system, Digital Health News reported earlier this week.

The documents, first published in Health Policy Insight, also revealed government plans to reduce the role of private sector organisations and instead give the health secretary greater control over objectives for the NHS. The health secretary would also take greater control over NHS England.

Commissioners would no longer be required to put contracts out to tender and instead there would be a new policy which gives the NHS and local authorities greater flexibility over who would provide healthcare services.

Ed Garratt, executive lead for the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System, said: “I welcome the white paper as it gives clearer accountability for the NHS and at a system level formalises shared governance across the NHS, local government and other partners.

“The proposals will support greater collective effort on improving outcomes for our population, which is the ultimate purpose of our work.”

The government has already begun its drive for better use of data, set out in the white paper, with the launch of a review led by Dr Ben Goldacre into how data can be used for research and analysis.

It will complement the forthcoming Data Strategy for Health and Social Care which will set the direction for the use of data in a post-pandemic healthcare system.

The data strategy, to be led by NHSX, was also recommended by Hancock in his November 2020 call to end bureaucracy in the NHS.

A bill on the plans published today are due to be brought before Parliament later this year.

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