Our seminar ‘Integrated Services – Working together to improve lives’ gave us the chance to learn more about the role of policy for integrated services. Different types of policies currently exist, some policies already include frameworks for integrated services, others have been recently redesigned to bring service integration forward.
Across a range of European countries, policy has acted as a driver for service integration in different fields and for different user groups. For whatever field, policy-makers acknowledge that local authorities are at the forefront of making integrated services and living a practice.
An outlook on policy reforms towards integrated services in Europe
Although service integration has recently been part of the policy debate, the state of play across Europe varies. In countries like Denmark, Sweden and the UK, policy has encouraged, or even required, local authorities (which usually hold the responsibility for social services) and other services that may sit at a different government level, such as health or employment services to work in partnership. In more decentralised countries, such as Spain, regional governments have established integrated policy frameworks for user groups, as in Catalonia or the Basque region.
Shared characteristics of policy reforms towards more integrated frameworks
Two examples where policy is currently refocusing towards integrated frameworks came from Finland and the UK. Whilst in Finland, reforms seek to improve the integration of health and social care across user groups, in the UK, reforms have aimed to transform young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
As shared element in both cases, involving local authorities as well as service users and the workforce dimension appear to be crucial. Policy accounts in both cases for these shared elements as being frameworks, in which local authorities are key actors in planning and implementing services. At workforce level, policy allocates resources to account for the relevance of professionals and strives to equip them with skills and resources for joint work. This also extends to service users.
Old wine in new bottles or fresh fruit on the menu?
Policy reforms have kicked off lively debates around the concept of integrated services and whether the concept offers new insights or whether it was just a re-labelling of existing forms of cooperation. It has come out that policy reforms for a stronger transition to integrated services call for a much more consistent involvement of service users and for more steady interdisciplinary cooperation.
The European Social Network (ESN) acknowledges the potential of policy as a driver for service integration. When developing service integration, policy can actually open the door for change to come.