Unveiling the Integrated Community Care Network

This weeks’  blog is written by Helen Lord (H.Lord@bolton.ac.uk), Joey Weber, Joanne Smith, Katie, Bannister, Phil Downing and Hayley Carr from the University of Bolton #BoltonUni

The surge in complex health and social care challenges has brought to light inefficiencies within existing systems, as noted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013 1. In response to the UK government’s policy shift towards community care 2, there is a critical need to align practical competence with theoretical knowledge 1. Amidst these challenges, the healthcare landscape is undergoing a significant transformation. The Integrated Community Network (ICN) has emerged as more than just an abstract concept; it represents a practical solution to address real-world needs. By fostering collaboration and bridging gaps between various stakeholders, the ICN aims to create a system that effectively responds to the pressing demands of health and social care. This fundamental shift is essential for achieving comprehensive and sustainable solutions in the face of unprecedented challenges (Ibid). However, a disconnection between education and practice has been recognised 3 and a call to action has been raised to address this as an urgent issue.

Miller, et al. 2 assert there are several methods of exploration to bridge this gap such as networking or the development of communities of practice. 4 first defined Communities of Practice (CoPs) as representing a group of individuals who share a common interest, stating that they regularly interact to enhance their collective skills, moving beyond deliberate learning. CoPs foster connections that facilitate the exchange of both tacit (unspoken) and explicit (formally documented) knowledge. Whereas in the realm of healthcare, networks play a pivotal role in collaboration, partnerships, and alliances 2. In deciding the most effective way for the team to address the issues, the Integrated Community Network [ICN] was developed by the academic team working across the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Bolton.

The benefits of a network

A network consists of connections among participants, viewed as a set of nodes and links; networks can be informal or formal, and they serve various purposes 5. McDonald and Steel 6 note that not all networks are CoPs, however, while all CoPs involve connections (and are therefore networks), not all networks have the shared domain and identity characteristic of CoPs.  Personal networks, for instance, may lack a common purpose beyond being connected to the same person. Conversely, a group of stakeholders to a cause may feel a strong allegiance and identity with the shared cause, even though they may not directly interact with each other 7. In most cases, networks and communities are intertwined. Communities often involve a network of relationships, and many networks exist because participants are committed to some joint enterprise 6. In summary, the University of Bolton ICN provides a platform for others to facilitate connections and development of CoPs outside of the network. The specific benefits of the network include provision of the opportunities for professionals in the sector to:

  • Meet with others to share ideas and opportunities to enhance practice.
  • Learn more about community services and innovation within community practice.
  • Support the development of high-quality services for those working and living within local communities.
  • Provide an opportunity for continued professional development.
  • Facilitate sharing of innovation and research from both academic and practice settings.
  • Strengthen your networks with other services.

Beyond theoretical foundations, the ICN taps into the practical experiences, diverse perspectives, and tacit knowledge of its members. It functions as a living, breathing organism where the whole is undeniably greater than the sum of its parts. In an era characterized by relentless change, the ICN serves as a dynamic platform where healthcare professionals can adapt, evolve, and learn from each other’s triumphs and setbacks.

How the network has evolved.

The ICN was launched in 2021 originally aiming to bring people together as we emerged from the virtual world enforced by the Covid -19 pandemic. Sessions delivered thus far have included a far-reaching and diverse range of topics facilitating fellow professionals to showcase innovation and share best practice. In March 2022 the first annual ICN conference was held at the University of Bolton which focused on the latest developments across community care settings and included new projects and initiatives aimed to enhance the experience and care for service users. The feedback shared included:

“Enables networking and raises awareness of issues and possibilities.”

“Useful for networking and learning new ways to involve students in community roles.”

“Great for making connections, learning about support services, and personally inspiring.”

In summary, the ICN’s main aims and benefits converge to create a robust, interconnected multi-disciplinary community that not only addresses current challenges but also actively shapes the future landscape of health and social care through shared knowledge, collaborative learning, and a commitment to innovation. The benefits of the Integrated Community Network (ICN) extend far beyond theoretical aspirations, manifesting as practical advantages that positively impact health and social care professionals and the communities they serve. The ICN encourages collaborative learning by fostering an environment where a multitude of professionals (e.g clinicians, academics and others involved in the sector) can openly share experiences and insights, facilitating collective problem-solving and continuous improvement. The network actively contributes to the development of the next generation of professionals through mentorship and knowledge transfer, ensuring a robust and skilled workforce for the future 9. Additionally, the ICN serves as a catalyst for innovation, providing a platform for the next generation  of healthcare professionals and implementation of fresh ideas in both educational strategies and practical applications whilst the network’s emphasis on enhancing leadership and management skills contributes to the overall effectiveness of healthcare practices. By strategically aligning with government priorities on community care, the ICN becomes a driving force for positive change, actively participating in collaborative efforts to meet the unique health needs of diverse communities 9. In essence, the ICN’s benefits underscore its commitment to fostering a resilient, interconnected community that continually evolves to meet the dynamic challenges of the health and social care landscape.

Will You Join Us?

The ICN invites all stakeholders in health and social care to be part of a practical network that prioritizes collaboration and innovation. Will you contribute to this collective effort towards a more effective and connected future? Please contact H.Lord@bolton.ac.uk to get involved.

References

  1. Ham, C. The challenges facing the NHS in England in December 2021. British Medical Journal, 371, Dec, 13. Available from: The challenges facing the NHS in England in 2021 – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. Miller, R, Glasby J, Dickinson, H. Integrated Health and Social Care in England: Ten Years On. October 2021 29;21(4):6.Available from: Integrated Health and Social Care in England: Ten Years On – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Davidson L, Scott J, Forster N. Patient experiences of integrated care within the United Kingdom: A systematic review. International Journal of Care Coordination. 2021;24(2):39-56. doi:10.1177/20534345211004503
  4. Lave, J, and Wenger, E. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. 1991. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Hevey, D. Network analysis: a brief overview and tutorial. Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine. 2018 September 6(1):301-328.Available from: Network analysis: a brief overview and tutorial – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. McDonald, J. and Cater-Steel, A. (eds.). Communities of Practice: Facilitating Social Learning in Higher Education.2017. Singapore: Springer.
  7. Wenger-Trayner, B. Communities versus networks? .2024. https://www.wenger-trayner.com/communities-versus-networks/
  8. NHS England.NHS Long Term Workforce Plan .2023. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/nhs-long-term-workforce-plan-v1.2.pdf

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