The Labour Party has announced the launch an independent commission to assess different means of integrating health and social care to boost the affordability of these "key" public services.

In support of the move, Ed Miliband said the National Health Service is facing a funding shortfall of £29 billion a year by 2020, and that its financial stability is being further hammered by mass lay-offs, A&E departments in "crisis" and treatment rationing.

Evidence from recent surveys, he argues, shows that NHS leaders believe the government's top-down reforms, which were "not needed and no-one voted for", is "stifling the real change the health service needs".

"The toughest financial pressures for 50 years are colliding with our rising need for care as society gets older and we see more people with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and dementia," Miiliband said, stressing that the challenge now is "to organise services around the needs of patients, rather than patients around the needs of services".

According to Labour's vision, this involves health and social care professionals working together, with care arranged by a single person, ending "the frustration of families being passed around between different organisations and having to repeat the same information over and over again". 

In addition, there should be a much greater focus on disease prevention and providing care in the home to avoid unnecessary costly hospital visits, he said.

Bridging the gap

The coalition government has already touched on bridging the gap between the health and social care sectors in its reforms. 

"We want everybody who uses both health and social care services to have integrated care – services that work together to give the best care based on a person’s personal circumstances", it said.

As such, it announced earlier this month that it is giving £2.7 billion to local councils to help them join up NHS and social care services, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has already been given new responsibilities within social care to improve standards.

But according to Miliband, current attempts to ingrate care "are being harmed by David Cameron’s push to turn the NHS into a full-blown market", and he claimed Labour's vision embraces the NHS' "founding principles of co-operation and integration rather than imposing fragmentation and free market ideology".

Sir John Oldham, previously national clinical lead for quality, innovation, productivity and prevention (QIPP) programme at the DH and leader of Labour's one-year commission, warned that, "if we don’t change, the crisis of need approaching rapidly will make the NHS and care system unsustainable, and reduce the competitiveness of our economy driving a spiral of decline".