Why voluntary organisations are essential to health service transformation: Get involved

England now has 44 sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs). These bring together NHS organisations and local councils to work out how to deliver more efficient and effective health and social care services to their populations.

A recent review of the voluntary sector’s involvement in statutory health and social care urged local hospitals, clinical commissioning groups and councils to do more to involve expert charities in the design and delivery of services of all kinds. Yet anecdotal evidence from colleagues around England is that there is a big difference in how involved voluntary organisations are depending on where you’re located. In Greater Manchester, for example, where the local authorities have recently set up a combined authority, the local infrastructure organisation MACC has seconded a member of staff into the STP, whose aim is to facilitate engagement of the voluntary sector at all levels of the STP’s operations. In many areas, however, the sector is either not involved at all, or only consulted once plans are drawn up.

Why should voluntary organisations be involved?

Voluntary organisations can make a great contribution to helping the public sector save money and deliver better services. Small, locally based charities and social enterprises often deliver the important preventative services that keep people away from expensive hospital stays or frequent GP visits, for example day care centres, social groups, community exercise groups, befriending, counselling, debt advice – the list is endless.

Voluntary organisations can support the public sector at all stages of the commissioning cycle:

  • We can provide insight and evidence on community needs, we can mobilise and support service users to take part in developing services and tender specifications, we can contribute evidence of impact of services, we can support the evaluation of services, and so on.
  • Locally based organisations also often have the trust of people that public bodies deem ‘hard to reach’, and can support public bodies to engage with and meet those communities’ needs.
  • Working with the sector can also enable commissioners to embed social value into their commissioning processes.

What are the barriers to involving the sector?

From what we’ve heard, barriers exist on both sides – public and voluntary sector:

For the public sector:

  • This could be due to the sheer scale of financial challenges faced, or to a lack of experience of working with the sector. A hospital trust might be familiar with the contribution that volunteers can make in the hospital setting, and the role of charities such as Macmillan and hospices, but they might not be aware of the wider role that the sector has (as outlined above).
  • Also, when faced with huge financial pressures, there is inevitably a focus on making the publicly run services work better.

On the voluntary sector side:

  • We are now required to form relationships at a new geographical level. VONNE successfully led a bid to be part of the Building Health Partnerships programme, which will help the sector in the north-east to have a greater role in the two north-east STPs. In many areas, the sector is simply not organised at this sub-regional level. For example, in London, the sector might be very well organised in one borough, or across two boroughs, but perhaps not at the level of 6-8 boroughs that are covered by the STP.
  • This is compounded by the shrinking of the role of (or loss of) local infrastructure organisations, due to reduced funding, as well as the demise of most of the regional voluntary sector bodies.

How can better partnership with the voluntary sector be facilitated?

NCVO, through our role in the VSCE Health and Wellbeing Alliance, has launched a project to support better involvement of local voluntary sectors with STPs. This will involve recruiting eight STP teams of 10 people, half voluntary sector and half public sector. A cohort of four teams will work together in the north, and a cohort of four teams will work together in parallel in the south.

Our aim is to help STPs identify the areas where voluntary sector involvement can add value, and build governance structures, relationships and strategies that will embed the sector in health and social care transformation. We will be asking the teams to come up with their own learning outcomes for the project, and we hope to give the teams the space and thinking time to progress their ideas for better partnership working, and receive insight and critique from colleagues from the other teams.

We see this project as a ‘learning’ phase, that will give us insight and experience to be able to help other STP areas make similar changes after the project completes in March 2018.

Get involved

To express your interest in taking part in the project, email publicservices@ncvo.org.uk by 1 September 2017. A more formal application process will then follow.

See full project details


This entry was posted in Policy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Lev is an associate consultant to NCVO, and has specialist interest and knowledge in the role of the voluntary sector in public service transformation, partnerships and consortia, charity governance and leadership.

One Response to Why voluntary organisations are essential to health service transformation: Get involved