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It takes way, way more than two to Tango (and it’s not as glittery as Strictly)

17th July 2020

Partnership Manager and Central Lancashire Local Plan Lead - Joe Hannett

There are a handful of moments I remember clearly from my life; first kiss, wedding, birth of my children, finally linking turns on a snowboard and… the moment I heard about the development of Lancashire and South Cumbria as one of the first Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in England, and I’m not embarrassed to tell you how excited it made me.

It felt like a tangible moment in the development of relationships between the organisations making up the local statutory systems, and local and regional voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector (VCFSE) organisations. The promise of clear, accountable structures, shared measures, and budgets wrapped in an all-encompassing focus on equal partnership and collaboration sounded like poetry.

In a little over two years, since the announcement that the Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS was to be established, more than 200 members of the VCFSE have begun to overcome years of competitive behaviour to network and communicate with each other, represent ourselves at boards and other system opportunities, coordinating and aligning with the health and care focus and geographical makeup of the Integrated Care System.

Support has been received from statutory organisations comprising the ICS, for whom a clear, unequivocal route to the wider sector has been a missing component to a ‘system’. Executive leaders from health and local authorities have been actively involved and supportive of the development of VCFSE partnerships including the Executive Director of Commissioning, Executive Director of Transformation, the Executive Medical Director and Lancashire’s Director of Public Health.

There are now five open and democratic groups, comprising senior VCFSE organisational leaders at ‘place’ level in the ICS: Pennine Lancashire, Central Lancashire, West Lancashire, Fylde Coast and Morecambe Bay. These are complemented by the Lancashire and South Cumbria VCFSE Alliance, a more recent grouping of the leads elected by those five areas, plus the VCFSE Representatives on the four Health and Wellbeing Boards across Lancashire and South Cumbria.  

This Alliance has recruited and appointed a new independent Chair, Peter Armer, with funding support from the ICS; this is an unprecedented level of cohesion and influence for the VCFSE in Lancashire (Cumbria has a different model) and a similarly notable investment from the ICS.

Our independent Chair now sits on the monthly ICS Executive Board, advocating for the system changes and policy development, drawing on the combined experience of more than 200 VCFSE organisations channelled through the Alliance to ensure people, communities and the VCFSE organisations working with them are empowered to be front and centre in policy development, service delivery and evaluation.

However, Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works of developing these relationships; important lessons are being learned and must be acted upon. VCFSE organisations’ crisis response approaches have proven fast, effective and human, with many realising the power of communities helping themselves. No longer can the VCFSE be an afterthought in local structures and decisions, our systems must grasp this opportunity to embed this learning.

Some of the next challenges are:

• How to ensure effective VCFSE representation in the development of all Integrated Care Partnerships, Multi-speciality Community Partnership and their Primary Care Networks.

• How to effectively support VCFSE leaders and their organisations to play their equal and necessary role in helping the whole system work better for our people and our communities.

Anything else would just be tinkering around the edges which doesn’t do partnership any justice – we’ve had enough of watching such tinkering happen while, to all intents and purposes, being locked out of substantive discussion and decisions. We haven’t even touched on Black Lives Matter and its effect on how we move forward together.

Partnership on this scale, working with so much history and complexity, is proving to be hard work and will get harder, requiring even more time and effort. Yet, when you think about it, so it should.