A first glimpse at the work of Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWB) has concluded that "significant advances" have been made, albeit with a mixed picture of progress.

The report, Making a local difference - put together by the NHS Confederation in partnership with the Department of Health and the Local Government Association - has found that despite only being officially functional since April, most boards have established their membership, agreed their role and set up governance arrangements and prepared Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and draft Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies.

After almost two years in shadow form, many HWBs have already tackled complex health issues, developed sensible assessments of need, and have consulted on their strategies, it claims.

"Yet even at this early stage, some clear differences have emerged in terms of the pace and scale of progress towards achieving their full potential", the report has found.

Based on learning from the work of the National Learning Network for HWBs - a programme funded by the Department of Health to share experience and support the establishment of efficient boards - the report has put forward five key lessons critical to ensuring that they can effectively meet their challenges.

For example, it says at the centre of every strong board is a good working partnership between the local authority and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). A strategic focus is also key, with a clear focus on where HWBs can "add value to existing work", it said.

The report also outlines nine key challenges these boards face, with examples of guidance and good practice to help them meet their objectives in improving the health and wellbeing of the nation. 

Health and wellbeing boards are "uniquely placed to shape how local services can support sustainable communities," noted Johnny Marshall, GP and NHS Confederation director of policy, adding "we should be doing everything we can to help [them] deliver".

£1bn budget?

Meanwhile, the Health Services Journal is reporting that HWBs could be handed control over a £1 billion portion of the Department of Health's budget under plans currently being mulled over by ministers.

It claims the proposal is being considered under the comprehensive spending review for 2015/16, which is due later this month.

Thus far, any money transferred from the health budget to local councils (£859 million for 2013/14) has been intended for joint working with the NHS, with the seal of approval needed from CCGs on how it is spent.

But according to the HSJ, discussions are currently ongoing over whether HWBs be given the power to approve spending instead, the idea being to give councils more say and give health and social care a more equal footing.