This paper reviews recent policy initiatives in England to achieve the closer integration of health and social care. It has been a policy goal of successive UK governments for over 40 years but overall progress has been patchy and limited. The coalition government has a new national framework for integrated care and variety of new policy initiatives including the ‘pioneer’ programme, the introduction of a new pooled budget – the ‘Better Care Fund’ – and a new programme of personal commissioning. Further change is likely as the NHS begins to develop new models of care delivery.
There are significant tensions between these very different policy levers and styles of implementation. It is too early to assess their combined impact. Expectations that integration will achieve substantial financial savings are not supported by evidence. Local effort alone will be insufficient to overcome the fundamental differences in entitlement, funding and delivery between the NHS and the social care system.