Cllr Vic Pritchard is the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health for Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Across the country, Councils are grappling with the twin challenges of reducing Government grants and demographic changes which are putting increasing pressure on local health and social care services.

Like many local authorities, here in Bath & North East Somerset we see that the way forward in meeting these challenges is to continue with the process of integrating our area’s health and social care services.

It is against this background that Bath & North East Somerset Council and the B&NES Clinical Commissioning Group undertook a major joint procurement exercise known as ‘Your Care Your Way’, leading ultimately to the awarding of the contract to run community health and care services to Virgin Care – bringing together more than 200 different services under one umbrella.

This process started with a wide-ranging consultation with service users, residents, our care staff, and all stakeholders on the issues they saw as most needing to be addressed within our vision and service plan.  What emerged from this were five key priorities: treating each individual as a person, not a condition; producing a single plan for each person; investment in the workforce; a focus on prevention; and joined-up IT systems.

Our next task was to identify an organisation to deliver these priorities. We needed a prime provider that could coordinate over 200 different services, using the latest technology to join up people’s records and inspire the health and care workforce to work in different ways.

From the outset, we ensured that service users and care staff had a central role in this procurement exercise – recruiting a team of ‘community champions’ who sat alongside senior clinicians and management on the evaluation panel which assessed the different bids.

The process undertaken was extensive and thorough, with all aspects of the different bids carefully looked into – including record of delivery elsewhere in the country and the financial robustness of each proposal.

At the end of this process, the conclusion of the independent panel was that Virgin Care scored significantly higher than the other bidder for the contract – a consortium led by our area’s existing community services provider – and it was therefore Virgin who were recommended to both the Council and CCG as the preferred provider.

Given the significance of the contract being awarded, and the fact that Virgin is an internationally-known brand and profit-making company, this outcome understandably raised a number questions among both councillors and the public – even gaining the attention of the national press and media.

Much of the controversy surrounding this decision was, however, far from warranted. As part of the contract Virgin has agreed that any surpluses will be fully reinvested into local services, and – crucially – the decision we had to take as a Council was whether or not to endorse the recommendations of an independent panel consisting of service users, care staff and clinicians.

At the end of the day, what matters most is the outcome, not the process, and ensuring we deliver the best possible care for residents.

We believe our ‘Your Care, Your Way’ review is a pioneering example of how the new models of care advocated in the NHS Five Year Forward View can be delivered – bringing together services and records to deliver a properly integrated health and social care system that has prevention at its heart, and which treats each individual as a ‘whole person’ by looking at all aspects of someone’s physical, mental and emotional needs.

Each part of the country will have their own local model for integrating services – but if we are to meet the challenges faced by health and care services, I believe that we will need to see more of this type of joined-up approach in the years ahead.