The Department of Health has confirmed a programme of support to ensure that Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) in England are fully engaging with a wide range healthcare providers in their plans to develop local services.

Around 30% of Boards currently include providers in their membership, and levels of engagement with providers varies wildly because of the high degree of autonomy on such relationships, which has raised some concern.

According to the Health Services Journal, ministers and NHS England are also piling pressure on HWBs to involve providers in discussions on plans for access to the £3.8 billion pooled health and social care cash pot, the Better Care Fund, the first drafts of which have now been submitted to the DH as part of the assurance process designed to vet that they are fit for purpose.

While it is crucial that conflicts of interest are avoided, it is also “essential that HWBs and providers work closely together to ensure that all parties are involved in discussions about the planning, commissioning and delivery of local services," a DH spokeswoman told PharmaTimes.

The Department is not planning a formal review, as such, and has no plans to change the legal basis of HWBs or the rules about their mandatory membership, she said.

But it will be working alongside partners, including the NHS Confederation and Monitor, "to look at how we can support local areas to ensure that the full range of providers are involved appropriately in local planning and decision making".

However, it is also important to note that "no one size fits all," the DH stressed to PharmaTimes.

"HWBs have the flexibility to decide their membership and governance in a way that best suits local circumstances - for example because of the complexity of the local provider market, or because they have decided that their role overseeing local commissioning requires a degree of independence", she explained.