SOCIAL workers and health staff are set to work more closely together under a pioneering partnership scheme between a council and the NHS.

Senior management teams at Darlington Borough Council and the Darlington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions health services for patients in the town, hope that the plan to share services and funding will lead to a more streamlined operation.

While the two bodies will remain independent of each other, they will share the management, commissioning and support of health and social care services, which often overlap.

The partnership scheme between the council and the CCG is thought to be one of the first in the country to be agreed and will also involve the voluntary and private sectors.

Bosses hope the partnership will lead to fewer people needing emergency hospital treatment and prevent people being forced to stay in hospital for longer than necessary due to a lack of support at home.

Another example of how the scheme could work would see a doctor treating an overweight patient for diabetes able to offer a gym membership at the council-run Dolphin Centre, instead of automatically handing out medication.

The partnership will also set up a ‘broker system’ where doctors and social workers can go to find out about any voluntary or private sector support available locally that might help their patient.

Dr Andrea Jones, chairwoman of the Darlington CCG, said: “We did have some joint working at a lower level but this is new at strategic level.

“There was duplication and some overlap and potentially some gaps in services as well. We spoke to a lot of people with long term health needs and what they told us about was duplication – they have to repeat themselves to those providing different elements of care.

“No single person is fully responsible for their care and they were often surprised that different organisations didn’t communicate better. That co-ordination of care will be better.”

It is hoped that patients accessing services will now only need to speak to one person and complete one form, with the information then shared between health and social care services as required.

Ada Burns, chief executive of Darlington Borough Council, said the system would give GPs ‘a whole raft’ of options for helping patients, which would only be available under closer working.

She added: “We feel we are in the vanguard of change here. It is a terrific opportunity for Darlington.”