By Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council

WHEN it comes to meeting the health care needs of our communities, a joined-up approach is vital. Advances in medicine and improvements to diet and housing mean people in the UK are living longer than ever before. This is something to be celebrated, but it also presents challenges, as it means more people are living with multiple long-term health conditions, increasing the pressure on health services.

The council and the local NHS recognised the current health and social care systems needed to change to meet these demands. Instead of relying on a hospital-based model of care, we needed a new way of working, based on partnership, providing more care in people’s homes and breaking down barriers between services.

Our public health teams and NHS partners have been working together for years, but these services continued to work within distinct boundaries and staff were very much rooted in their employing organisations.

More needed to be done so in 2017 the council and other NHS organisations formed the County Durham Integrated Community Care Partnership. Thirteen Teams around Patients (TAPs) were introduced, bringing together nurses, therapists, social workers and other specialist services for older people and those with long term or complex conditions. This approach put people and patients at the centre, with teams “wrapped around” groups of GP practices.

Working together in this way is starting to show real benefits. Nurses are now working closely with social workers and therapists, who are often based in the same building, allowing them to get to know each other and how their services can work best together. This makes it easier to join up the care packages designed for patients and to link in with specialist services such as GP practices and voluntary organisations.

County Durham was one of the first areas to recognise that we needed to change, and there is no doubt that working in partnership is making our care system stronger. We will continue to innovate and build upon these achievements, doing as much as we can to support people to live happy, healthy lives, in the home of their choice for as long as possible.