A new report by The Kings Fund has highlighted the vital role district councils have to play in improving the health and wellbeing of their communities.
Driving better health outcomes through integrated care systems: The role of district councils sets out the ‘significant difference’ local councils can make to the success of integrated care systems. The report states:
“District councils have statutory powers over service areas including planning, housing, benefits, and leisure and green spaces, which affect many of the most significant determinants of health. Around 40 per cent of the population of England live in a district council area.” It goes on to say: “Around 80 per cent of the variation observed in population health outcomes is attributable to wider factors such as these, rather than to the quality of health care services. This makes district councils indispensable strategic partners in integrated care systems (ICSs), whose involvement is essential if systems are to deliver population health improvements.”
Last month the Government committed to supporting Integrated Care Systems (ICS) following the publication of two reports. The Hewitt Review and the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) inquiry both highlighted the role ICS must play in delivering local services. However, the new study, commissioned by the District Councils’ Network, suggests that the role district councils have played so far has been limited, with varying degrees of success. This, the research has shown, must change.
The findings call on leaders to “Embed district council leadership throughout the ICS” and to “ensure prevention is at the heart of the system’s mission and purpose, including by developing place-based projects to tackle the wider determinants of health.”
DCN’s health spokesperson, Cllr Hannah Dalton (leader of Epsom & Ewell Borough Council) is welcoming the report:
“Prevention, in the form of a focus on population health, needs to be our shared goal. We want to prevent illness or stop it at the first opportunity rather than allow it to progress, worsening wellbeing and adding to the NHS’s workload. And we want to build places which promote happy, healthy lives.
“For 40% of the English population, district councils are the lead bodies in bringing this about. We are the most localised principal authorities, have unique proximity to our communities and run the specific services that have the most significant impact on the determinants of health.
“Our planners shape the places in which we live, building communities with plenty of green spaces which promote active lifestyles; while our economic development staff promote seek to overcome the joblessness and deprivation which are linked to ill health. Our welfare teams help people avoid poverty, reaching out to support the people our local insight tells us are in danger of falling into crisis, for instance by facing homelessness. Our leisure centres support our populations to be physically active and offer specific services designed to help people manage long-term conditions. District housing teams ensure that people live in safe, pleasant environments conducive to health and environmental health teams are key to ensuring public safety. We specialise in prevention.
“The importance of districts’ work has been truly apparent in recent years as we worked to limit the impact of Covid-19 and have supported our local communities during the cost-of-living crisis, working with them to alleviate food and fuel poverty.
“In some parts of the country, districts’ full value is being utilised by ICSs. But there is no reason why existing best practice should not be utilised in all places. After all, we all share the same objectives: creating healthier, happier communities; ensuring an efficient and effective care system and – crucially – reducing the pressure on the NHS.
“The DCN looks forward to working with all our partners across the health system to bring about the revolution we all seek.”
Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.