What are Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)

What are Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)?

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Care Learning

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Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are a key feature of the NHS in England. The aim is to bring together different organisations to deliver better and more seamless care to patients.

They help prioritise and allocate resources efficiently and ensure that care is coherent, cohesive, and patient-focused.

The Purpose of Integrated Care Systems

ICSs aim to improve health and care outcomes. They focus not only on treating illness but also on prevention, early intervention, and tackling health inequalities.

This system allows patients to receive the right care at the right time, reducing unnecessary hospital visits and admissions.

Structure of Integrated Care Systems

Core Components

ICSs comprise several core components:

  • NHS Foundation Trusts and NHS Trusts: Provide acute care, mental health services, and community services.
  • Primary Care Networks (PCNs): Groups of general practices working together to provide a wider range of services.
  • Local Authorities: Responsible for public health, social care, and other community services.
  • Voluntary and Community Organisations: Play a role in delivering local services and supporting community health.

Key Features of Integrated Care Systems

Collaboration and Integration

Collaboration stands at the heart of ICSs. Various stakeholders work closely to share information, plan collectively, and coordinate care. This integration helps in identifying healthcare needs at an early stage and ensures patients receive timely and appropriate care.

Population Health Management

ICSs focus on the broader health of the population. They use data to understand local health needs and develop services accordingly. This approach ensures resources are targeted at areas of greatest need and that preventive measures are in place.

Benefits of Integrated Care Systems

Improved Patient Outcomes

By integrating services, patients experience smoother transitions between different types of care. This reduces gaps in treatment and helps manage chronic conditions more effectively. It also promotes better outcomes and enhances patients’ experiences.

Efficiency and Resource Allocation

ICSs can make better use of resources. By understanding population health needs, they’re able to allocate funds more effectively. This reduces waste, avoids duplication of services, and ensures resources go where they’re most needed.

Tackling Health Inequalities

Health inequalities are differences in health status or in the distribution of health resources. ICSs aim to address these inequalities by targeting areas and groups with the greatest need. They ensure everyone has access to the same level of high-quality care.

Challenges of Integrated Care Systems

Coordination Across Organisations

Effective collaboration requires a shared vision and strong leadership. Different organisations may have varying priorities and cultures, which can pose challenges. Ensuring seamless communication and coordination is crucial.

Data Sharing and Privacy

Sharing data across different organisations is key to the success of ICSs. However, it must be done in a way that respects patients’ privacy and complies with legal requirements. Ensuring cybersecurity and data protection is vital.

Governance of Integrated Care Systems

Accountability and Decision-Making

ICSs have a clear governance structure. This ensures accountability and effective decision-making. Boards comprising representatives from various sectors, including health, social care, and the community, oversee the ICS.

Regulatory Framework

ICSs operate within a regulatory framework. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS England monitor their performance. These bodies ensure that ICSs meet the required standards of care and deliver on their objectives.

Case Studies

Example 1: Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership

Greater Manchester was one of the first regions to develop an ICS. They focused on integrating services to address local health challenges. This approach resulted in improved health outcomes and more efficient use of resources.

Example 2: Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership

Surrey Heartlands is another example of a successful ICS. They worked on reducing hospital admissions by focusing on preventive care and community services. This strategy helped keep patients healthier and reduced the strain on hospitals.

Future of ICSs

Expansion and Scaling

The NHS plans to expand ICSs across England. The ultimate goal is to have ICSs cover the entire population. This expansion will require ongoing investment, adaptation, and learning from early adopters.

Innovations and Technology

Technology will play a significant role in the future of ICSs. Digital tools, telehealth, and data analytics can help streamline care, improve patient outcomes, and make services more available and convenient.


Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) mark a significant shift in how health and social care services are organised and delivered.

They focus on collaboration, integration, and a population health approach to improve outcomes and tackle health inequalities. While there are challenges to address, the potential benefits for patients and the healthcare system are substantial.

The future looks promising as ICSs expand and continue to innovate, ensuring that care is cohesive, efficient, and patient-focused.

Integrated Care Systems PDF Resources

Designing Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) in England (PDF)

    • This document provides an overview to help local leaders think through where functions should sit in their system, maximising resources and galvanising collective effort.

    Integrated Care Systems Explained (PDF)

      • This document explains ICSs as partnerships of NHS bodies and local organisations, including the allocation of resources and overseeing transformation.

      What are Integrated Care Systems? – NHS Confederation (PDF)

        • This briefing explains how the 42 ICSs across England work and their strategic purposes, including improving population health.

        Introducing Integrated Care Systems: Joining Up Local Services to Improve Health Outcomes (PDF)

          • This document explains how ICSs bring together NHS, local government, and other partner organisations to plan and deliver integrated services.

          Integrated Care Systems: Design Framework – NHS England (PDF)

            • This design framework provides guidance on the expected use of resources by ICSs to support self-assessment of their clinical and professional capabilities.

            Integrated Care Systems: What Do They Look Like? (PDF)

              • This document details the structure and characteristics of the 42 ICSs in England, covering populations from 500,000 to 3 million people.

              The State of Integrated Care Systems 2021/22 – NHS Confederation (PDF)

                • This report provides an overview of the status and progress of ICSs across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

                Integrated Care Systems in England: What SLTs Need to Know (PDF)

                  • This document provides information specifically for Speech and Language Therapists about the formation and operation of ICSs.

                  Integrated Care Systems – Challenging Behaviour Foundation (PDF)

                    • This summary explains how ICSs combine health and care services for a geographical area, including Clinical Commissioning Groups, health providers, and local authorities.

                    Integrated Care Systems in London – The King’s Fund (PDF)

                      • This report by The King’s Fund explores the development and implementation of ICSs specifically in London.

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