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Bill McCarthy

North West regional director
NHS England and NHS Improvement

This has been an extraordinary last 12 months. The courage and compassion shown by teams across the NHS in responding to the pandemic has been remarkable. Stretching all the way from the earliest days to the exceptional roll out of the vaccination programme. 

Many characteristics have contributed to NHS achievements including resilience, innovation, decisiveness, agility in the face of adversity. This report is celebrating another, and one of the most significant. Collaboration between providers across many settings has been at the heart of the NHS response and core to serving our communities and patients effectively during the pandemic.  

My own region, the North West, has had a particularly hard time with COVID prevalence and hospitalisations consistently higher than national levels. We understood very quickly that collaboration was not a polite aspiration but was the only practical response in real time to the challenges we faced. And this meant collaboration at many levels: in our local places where community, primary and social care teams worked together to identify and support shielding people and care homes, in each of our three system level hospital collaboratives to provide daily mutual aid and support for critical care teams, across the region where our mental health trusts have been working together on a strategy to enable our most complex patients to experience better lives. All of this has required leadership focused on and committed to the shared responsibility to serve patients and communities in the best way possible and putting this ahead of narrow organisational interest. I could not be prouder of the response from chief executives and their teams across the North West. I know from my fellow regional directors that level of collaboration and sense of pride in the response is replicated across the country. 

The November 2020 publication, Integrating care: Next steps to building strong and effective integrated care systems across England, has baked this experience into the vision for the future. As much as collaboration across providers has been an essential response to COVID, so too will it be at the heart of recovery so that we can make the very best use of capacity while tackling inequality of access, and build on our understanding of population health management techniques to coordinate effort for the most vulnerable groups. It will be important for us to use the planned establishment of ICSs on a statutory footing as an opportunity to build on the examples of good practice that we have seen across the country and to maintain our focus on collaboration to tackle these future challenges. It is great to see the progress that has already been made by so many, and a number of examples are included in this report.