On this page you'll find an overview of the key health and care legislation in each of the four UK nations.
To have a voice in your local health and care system, you need to understand how it is governed and what services it is required to provide. This will help you identify:
- what commissioners are looking for
- how you can enhance the local offer.
To find out about the policy and guidance for palliative and end of life care in each nation, look at our overview.
To find out how to influence the decision makers in your local health and care system, have a look at our Local influencing resource.
Health and care frameworks in the UK
In the UK, the devolved governments for each nation set the legislative framework for the national health services (NHS) and Local Authority social care. Acts of Parliament are implemented via policy, guidance and plans through the departments of health and social care in each nation.
Across the UK, the funding, planning and provision of healthcare is being further aligned with social care as we move towards more collaborative and integrated models of care.
Health and Social care
The Health and Care Act 2022 is the most recent amendment to the overall healthcare legislation in England. A key change is the establishment of Integrated Care Systems (ICS), joint health and care partnerships of commissioners and providers.
The King’s Fund’s Making Sense of the 2022 Health and Care Act explains all the changes the Act brings about.
The Care Act 2014 is the legislation governing adult social care provision and eligibility in England.
SCIE’s Introduction to the Care Act 2014 video explains the basics of the Act.
In September 2021, the Government put forward its plan to reform adult social care. It must also respond to an independent review of children’s social care, published in May 2022.
The Department for Health and Social Care has announced the development of a Major Conditions Strategy that will set out a shift to integrated, whole-person care, building on the measures in the NHS Long Term Plan.
NHS Planning Guidance and Long Term Plan
The NHS Long Term Plan was first published in 2019 as the overall plan for the NHS. A key focus is collaborative and personalised care planning and delivery. It forms part of the annual NHS priorities and operational planning guidance.
Integrated Care Systems
Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are the structures introduced in 2022, through which health, social care and some of the wider determinants of health are to be coordinated and delivered. Health system responsibilities will be different between ICSs and national bodies such as NHS England, as set out in their operating framework.
Within each ICS, an Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) is responsible for co-producing an Integrated Care Strategy with local health and care partners. In August 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) produced statutory guidance on the preparation of integrated care strategies.
The Integrated Care Board (ICB) is the statutory NHS body responsible for developing a Five Year Joint Forward Plan. In the first year, ICBs have until June 2023 to consult on and finalise these. In December 2022, NHSE produced guidance on developing the joint forward plans.
NHS England has produced a suite of guidance for ICBs, including:
Health and Social care
In Northern Ireland, the key legislation for the way the Health and Social Care (HSC) system is coordinated and delivered is the Health and Social Care (Reform) Act (Northern Ireland) 2009. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s Framework Document (2011) describes the roles and functions of the various health and social care bodies and the systems that govern their relationships.
Health policy is guided by the Making Life Better framework for public health and the themes of health and wellbeing, and health inequalities, therein.
The Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together plan written in 2016, paves the way for the 2022 system reconfiguration including one Integrated Care System (ICS).
Integrated Care System
Under the Health and Social Care Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, the HSC is directly accountable to Government with the migration of the HSC Board in April 2022.
The implementation of the Integrated Care System is still under consultation during 2022. Within this, regional Area Integrated Partnership Boards (AIPB) will replace Local Commissioning Groups (LCG) and end the purchaser / provider split.
More information is set out in the Department of Health’s Integrated Care System NI Draft Framework.
Health and Social care
The commissioning and provision of healthcare was brought together under Scottish government legislation by the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 and the National Health Service Reform (Scotland) Act 2004.
The Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 and its Statutory Guidance introduced Health and Social Care Partnerships. This means NHS Boards and Local Authorities jointly fund, plan and provide health and care, mostly through Integration Joint Boards (IJB).
The Healthcare Quality Strategy for NHS Scotland (May 2010) set out how NHS Scotland aims to deliver the highest quality healthcare services to people in Scotland.
In 2011, the Scottish Government published its 2020 Vision for Health and Social Care. This set out the strategic vision for achieving sustainable quality in the delivery of healthcare services across Scotland. This has now been archived, but it set the vision for the national policies and plans that followed.
The National Health and Wellbeing Outcomes Framework sets the expectations against which Boards, Local Authorities and Partnerships write their strategic plans and report their annual performance.
The Health and Social Care Delivery Plan was published in December 2016 to implement the Healthcare Standards. This strengthened the role of Health and Social Care Partnerships to plan and deliver well-coordinated care that is timely and appropriate to people's needs. It also called for greater collaboration around and between NHS Boards.
The Scottish Government has introduced a Bill which aims to establish a National Care Service to sit alongside and mirror the National Health Service.
Health and Social Care
The National Health Service Wales Act 2006 is the primary health legislation in Wales.
NHS Wales’ overview of Primary legislation and statutory instruments explains its main policy areas.
The key legislation for social care is the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. It established joint working between the NHS and Local Authorities in Regional Partnership Boards (RPB).
More information is detailed in this Overview of the Social Services and Well-being Act from Social Care Wales.
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 sets out a framework for all public sector bodies to work together and with their communities to improve the well-being of people in Wales.
It is explained in this Welsh Government Guide to the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
The Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) (Wales) Act 2020 strengthens the duty for NHS bodies to improve quality and the right for citizens to have a voice in their care.
A summary of the Health and Social Care Quality and Engagement Act is available from the Welsh Government.
This legislation underpins the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government and the key health and social care plan: A Healthier Wales, which were published in 2021.
The plans are supported by the National Clinical Framework. This proposes a clinically-led NHS Wales Executive as well as national programmes of work driven by quality statements.
NHS Wales has published a priorities statement for 2023.