Collaborative working

What do we mean by collaboration?

You will have heard us talk about collaboration in many conversations over the last year or so as the NHS looks to work more effectively to provide health and care services to our local populations. In its simplest form, when we discuss collaboration we mean working together with partners across the places (boroughs and local communities) and systems (Integrated Care Systems) we provide services in.

We have already been working collaboratively with partners in the geographies we cover, so the more formal arrangements required through the NHS are helping us to build on existing relationships and work to deliver improved outcomes for our communities. 

At the heart of all our collaborative working is our patients, and coproduction is at the centre of ensuring we deliver services that are fit for the future.

There are some more formal arrangements in place across health and care services that we refer to and are part of as an NHS provider trust. You will also hear us talking about this more often as we start to plan and provide services in a more joined up way into the future.

Types of partners we collaborate with

Integrated care systems

Integrated care systems (ICSs) are partnerships that bring together NHS organisations, local authorities and others to take collective responsibility for planning services, improving health and reducing inequalities across geographical areas.

There are 42 ICSs across England, covering populations of around 500,000 to 3 million people.

Integrated care boards

Integrated care boards (ICBs) are statutory bodies that are responsible for planning and funding most NHS services in the area.

Integrated care partnerships

Integrated care partnerships (ICPs) are statutory committees that bring together a broad set of system partners (including local government, the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE), NHS organisations and others) to develop a health and care strategy for the area.

Provider collaboratives

Provider collaboratives are partnerships that bring together two or more NHS trusts to work together at scale to benefit their populations. While providers have worked together for many years, the move to formalise this way of working is part of a fundamental shift in the way the health and care system is organised.

Improvement networks

Improvement networks bring together clinical, operational and patient experts to look at how specific services and care pathways can innovate, integrate and improve for the benefit of patients and communities. 

Why are we collaborating?

The NHS faces significant challenges including rising demand for services, workforce and funding challenges. Rather than work as a single organisation, trying to solve some of these problems, it makes more sense to work in partnership to try to address these issues together. Our challenges are not unique to us, and are consistent across the geographies we work in and the providers we work with.

By working collaboratively with NHS, local authority and other partners across the systems and places we deliver services, we stand a better chance of improving the quality of care we provide, making it more sustainable and better value for money.

NHS England has argued that the challenges facing providers after the Covid-19 pandemic are too much for a single organisation to tackle. Formalising provider collaboratives is a culmination of a national policy focus on addressing these challenges through system working and exploring the potential of working at scale.

The scale of challenge in the NHS is so big at the moment, it is easy to lose sight of what we’re trying to do. We all want to improve population health outcomes and tackle inequity for our patients through the standardisation of clinical care. All of these things are hard to achieve. Some will be easier to address at scale as a system, through formal collaboratives, while other improvements might be made on a smaller scale through improvement networks or service innovation and integration.

Benefits for our patients

The aims of working in collaboration with our partners are to deliver better access and outcomes for our patients and wider communities.

By working together across places and systems, we can look at how we can best spend the funding available for health to ensure more equitable access to services across our communities.

We can provide more care closer to home, or in a setting best suited to recovery, improving outcomes for our patients.

We can have a greater impact in reducing inequalities for different groups of people in our communities by focusing on population health outcomes.

We can make services easier for patients to use and navigate, ensuring they don’t have to spend time repeating their stories and having to go through their information numerous times.

Benefits for our workforce

Through working more collaboratively we can look to create opportunities for our workforce too. Partnership working helps us to think differently about the way we provide services and encourages innovation. This means there are more chances to develop new and innovative roles for colleagues to support growth and development.

Collaboration also gives us the opportunity to pool our resources and get better value for money in areas such as training and development, again opening more options for staff to think about their career paths and learning.

Working closely with colleagues from other areas can also help us to think differently about the best way to deliver services, bringing new ideas and creating the chance to reshape how we do things to better meet the needs of our patients and their loved ones.

In smaller services, or those under lots of pressure, closer working arrangements enable mutual aid and support to happen quickly and ensure that patient safety and high quality care can be prioritised.

Our provider collaboratives