Leader of Council will oversee health partnerships for Greater Manchester

It has been confirmed that Sir Richard Leese will become chair of Greater Manchester's new Integrated Care Board (ICB). He will take on the new role when the ICB legislation comes into force in April. Sir Richard will step down as leader of Manchester City Council in December.

Integrated care systems are new partnerships between the organisations that meet health and care needs across an area, designed to coordinate services and to plan in a way that improves population health and reduces inequalities. 

ICBs are part of new legislation for the NHS, taking over the role played by clinical commissioning groups, which will no longer exist. Commissioning involves deciding what services are needed for diverse local populations and ensuring that they are provided.

Health in Greater Manchester could and should be better

When Sir Richard announced he was standing down as leader, an article in the MEN stated: “He particularly wants to spend more time with his family, he added, after a gruelling two years that has hardly featured any time off. Sir Richard said he was particularly hoping to be able to spend more time babysitting his grandchildren, rather than saying 'no, I've got a meeting'.”

However, rumours swirled Sir Richard was not quite reaching for the pipe and slippers just yet and in fact would be moving into health, expanding on his current role as health lead at GMCA. When he steps down as leader of Manchester City Council he will no longer be eligible to serve in that role. 

His replacement as leader, Bev Craig, will no doubt also want to make healthcare a priority as she transitions to leadership.

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Royal Children's Hospital Manchester

Challenges ahead

Sir Richard has previous experience in health governance, chairing the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership since March 2020. He was also one of the signatories to the city region’s health devolution deal with the Government in 2015 which meant Greater Manchester took charge of the £6bn spent annually on health and care. 

While leading the council, Sir Richard has also chaired Manchester’s Health and Wellbeing board since its inception, planning health and social care services for the city. As health links in with environment, housing and education, Sir Richard will continue to work with partners across the region.

Sir Richard has some challenges ahead. Greater Manchester has the fastest growing economy in the country and yet people here die younger than people in other parts of England. Cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses are especially prevalent and there is a growing number of older people with long-term health issues to manage. 

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Recovery from Covid is a priority

The recent crisis in care provision and the fallout from the pandemic means that healthcare will be an urgent priority for Greater Manchester over the next few years.

Currently, many people are treated in hospital when their needs could be better met elsewhere. Care is not joined up and is of inconsistent quality. Greater Manchester spends millions of pounds dealing with illnesses caused by poverty, loneliness, stress, debt, smoking, drinking, air quality, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity. The ICB will be looking at how to address these causes of ill health and take a preventative approach.

There is a question mark over how much influence the ICB will have over GP surgeries, however, as GP participation in an integrated care partnership is voluntary.

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Housing is a factor in health outcomes

Root causes of poor health in Manchester

Reflecting on his new appointment, Sir Richard said:

“I am really pleased to have been confirmed as chair-designate of the Integrated Care Board (ICB) for Greater Manchester and look forward to building on our strong track record of partnership working to deliver for our 2.8 million residents. We have achieved much through voluntary and collaborative working, not least a shared vision; but legal reform will help break down structural barriers to progress and promote true joined-up working."

Commenting on the multiple stakeholders involved in healthcare, he added: 

“Health in Greater Manchester could and should be better. Debt, poverty, housing, relationships, and work are often the root causes of poor health in Greater Manchester, and we must work together to tackle these causes of ill health. Covid tragically exposed just how vulnerable many of our communities in Greater Manchester were to getting the virus and suffering more from it.

“As the country tentatively starts to recover from Covid and our public sector services face unprecedented demand across all areas, we must now use the opportunities these new ways of working present to take a bigger and more active role in addressing inequalities. We will strengthen our working with local communities, including the voluntary sector, making us all partners in shaping services. We will continue to keep our workforce centre stage, supporting them and helping them to work together to provide joined-up care in the interests of the public."

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Planned hospital care will come under Sir Richard's purview

As well as supporting NHS staff who have been under great strain during the recent pandemic, Sir Richard will surely by considering how to integrate developments in technology to ensure a more efficient service. Digital healthcare, online services for mental health and the use of artificial intelligence are all subjects that need further exploration. 

Greater Manchester is also leading the way on social prescribing, which helps people to connect with community groups and activities that provide support for mental and physical health and wellbeing.

 Sir Richard’s final comment on his new role addressed his plans for the future:

“Our vision has always been to improve people’s health and wellbeing – physical and mental, and to make our city region a great place to grow up, get on and get old. Whilst we have made good strides in many areas, such as improved school readiness and reduced mortality from killer diseases, we know that we’ve further to go in other areas and are determined to renew our focus. We are now developing our next ambitious five-year plan and I am confident we can continue to make great progress together.”

Read now: 'I can't wait to get stuck in' - Bev Craig elected Leader of Manchester City Council 

Read next: Richard Leese resigns – the end of an era

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