England’s top A&E doctor is calling for a closer working relationship between the NHS and local authorities to help improve the health of local communities.

According to Professor Keith Willett, the two sectors have struggled to overcome financial, cultural and operational differences, preventing them from adapting to public need, but the conditions are now right “for a major shift in attitude”.

With 100,000 beds and 1.3 million workers in the NHS and more than 300,000 beds and 1.5 million workers in social care the two sectors were becoming “increasingly interdependent,” he stressed.

Joint working is achievable, and NHS and local councils that fail to establish such partnerships will face “increasingly hard questions from the public,” he predicted, noting that the status quo “is looking less and less attractive to more and more people”.

Joint local authority/NHS schemes are already making a difference in local communities, he stressed, including those offering health coaches, social prescribing health hubs and housing schemes to support people at home keeping them out of hospital.

In one example, Wealden in East Sussex has a jointly funded NHS and council health coaching service, with local GPs prescribing community activities from the council’s not-for-profit leisure operator, including coffee mornings, singing workshops and walking groups. According to the data so far, of the 29 patients who regularly visited their GP in the six months before receiving coaching visits were reduced by 61 percent in the six months after.

In another, Wycombe District Council’s ‘Healthy Homes on Prescription’ allows medical or social care practitioners to refer patients for simple, fast-tracked housing solutions to support independent living at home, which may include a stair lift or central heating system.

Also, people with a long-term chronic health condition can apply for up to £5,000 without means testing to help support their physical and mental well-being at home, preventing hospital admission and GP attendances. This, says NHS England, is already saving the NHS £53,476 and social care £132,984.

“My message to health colleagues is engage with your district councils because they have a lot to offer in terms of planning issues with healthcare infrastructure and leadership skills,” said Charles Lant, chief executive of the Wealden District Council.

“To district councils you know there’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of your residents. The services you provide are a perfect opportunity to engage with healthcare colleagues to try to ensure the maximum benefit for the people you represent.”

“It's good news to hear about so many schemes across the country where primary and secondary care are working together to implement social prescribing initiatives that are benefitting patients, and having a positive impact on the NHS as a whole,” commented Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

"It's clear that for social prescribing schemes to work well, then different sectors of health and social care services must work together constructively, and input from local councils can really help. It is also imperative that there are enough community services that could have a positive impact on our patients' physical and mental health and wellbeing, to meet demand.”