Greater Manchester gets go-ahead for health devolution

Greater Manchester has today made history as being the first UK region to take control of its own health budget.

The devolution agreement will see the region of Greater Manchester obtain control over a £6 billion budget as a means of improving both health and social care spending across the city’s 10 councils. An extra £450 million will be supplied to aid the transformation process.

Broadly speaking, the agreement is meant to improve health and social care through the creation of Local Care Organisations with the intent to reduce hospital visits; the sharing of medical records between medical professionals, care workers and others to provide more integrated care; and the launch of seven-day access to a GP.

The Greater Manchester Strategic Partnership will take control of the budget and be tasked with addressing health issues in a region that has the lowest life expectancy in England. It will be led by Lord Peter Smith, leader of Wigan Council, and will consist of 37 organisations, NHS England, 10 borough councils and GP administrators.

The move has been greeted enthusiastically by the new leaders. Lord Smith himself described the move as “revolutionary for the region” and putting Greater Manchester “in a great place ahead of a new era for health and social care services.”

However some are concerned that so-called ‘Devo Manc’ is a risky experiment for a health service under huge financial pressure. Social services have seen its budgets cut back, and some believe merging the service budgets will obscure problems of underfunding in the system.

The move comes at a difficult time for Greater Manchester which very recently had its NHS mental health budget cut by £1.5 million. Criticism therefore remains in regards to the amount of money Greater Manchester will be given to improve.

Original plans for the devolution were proposed early last year as part of the wider Five-Year Forward View, proposed in 2014, and Northern Powerhouse programmes by George Osbourne in agreement with NHS England.

At the time, the decision was equally heralded as a positive move, with Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, describing the plan as a “unique opportunity for innovation and improvement in health and wellbeing.”

The Greater Manchester Strategic Partnership will now confirm plans to prioritise certain health and social issues, including specific disease mortality (e.g. cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease), hospital admissions, education, and poverty.

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