STEPS are being taken by NHS and council leaders to integrate health and social care in County Durham.

The new Health and Social Care Plan is aimed at improving communication between health and social care providers to make it easier for people accessing services.

In a joint statement, Durham County Council leader Councillor Simon Henig, and Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) chief clinical officers Dr Neil O’Brien and Dr Stewart Findlay said: “We are jointly leading the way on this approach to ensure that every pound spent in our county on these services delivers the best possible outcome for our residents.

“We have a well-demonstrated track record in improving people’s lives through strong partnership working and this latest agreement paves the way for potentially one of the biggest health and social care plans in the country.

“By integrating how we buy and provide these much-needed, important services we will be able to make it easier for people to access the help they need and make these often challenging journey through the system much easier to navigate.

“This is a really bold and ambitious approach that I believe will be seen as one of the most important things the county has ever done.”

The plan, developed with advice from Price Waterhouse Coopers, is aimed at tackling the problem of services being duplicated and is part of a drive by the health service to reduce demand for hospital and other health and care services by shifting the focus on keeping people well and happy at home.

CCGS are working on plans to deliver more care in community settings and at home through a new model, knowns as Teams Around Patients, which sees clusters of providers working together across the county.

Services which have already been integrated include mental health and learning disability, intermediate care and the 0-19 pathway, while jointly commissioned services include community equipment, carers’ services, social prescribing and post-diagnosis autism services.

The CCGs for North Durham, Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) and Darlington, which are responsible for planning and commissioning health services, are due to award a new contract for its community services provision this month.

The new provider will be in place by October.

A statement by the CCGs said: “Community services are delivered by a number of providers and are sometimes fragmented as a result.

“To make a difference we need to bring providers together. The aim is to grow and improve, not reduce, community services commissioned by the organisations across County Durham and Darlington.”