How can voluntary organisations influence and shape health service transformation?

Charities and social enterprises can support the planning and delivery of publicly funded health services in lots of ways – from gathering user insight, to codesigning services, to actual service delivery. And those are all aspects that were endorsed and encouraged by the 2017 national review of the voluntary sector’s role in healthcare delivery. But beyond this, what are the opportunities for charities to influence and shape service strategy and transformation at a high level?

NHS England has created 44 sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) areas. They bring together local organisations to redesign care and improve the health and wellbeing of local communities. The most mature partnerships, of which there are currently 14, have evolved to become integrated care systems (ICS). In these systems, NHS organisations take collective responsibility for managing resources and using them to improve the quality of care and health outcomes for their residents. They work in close partnership with local government and others in the community. Every part of England will be covered by an ICS by 2021. What interests us at NCVO is how the voluntary sector can meaningfully contribute to service and system transformation, and not just fulfill a ‘community involvement’ tick-box. We’re firm believers that public services work better when charities and social enterprises are involved.

Unsurprisingly there are some big challenges to making this happen, both on the public sector side (for example a lack of knowledge and understanding of the range of ways voluntary organisations can support them) and on the voluntary sector side (for example our ability to coordinate and collaborate across the new STP ‘footprint’ areas due to not having existing relationships across such wide areas).

Accelerating collaboration

NHS England is working with eight ‘accelerator sites’ that are developing strong sustainable collaborations with the voluntary sector in their STP areas. They have asked us to capture and disseminate the learning, to help other areas to learn and replicate good practice.

Common purpose and values matter

The main thing we’ve learned from the eight accelerator sites is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Different things work in different areas. But some ‘core components’ of success are emerging. These include:

  • Having a common purpose, vision and values, focusing on the greater good, not one’s organisational needs, and focusing on solutions
  • Positive attitude traits such as transparency, honesty, willingness to share challenges openly, and being able to see things from others’ perspectives
  • The importance of building and investing in relationships
  • The importance of resourcing the time and effort needed.

We have also learned that what matters for successful collaboration is not so much the resultant model or structure, but the time spent working together on those models and structures, particularly with time spent on building the vision, shared values and way of working. There also must be an acknowledgment that in these systems there is an inherent imbalance of power, in particular between the public sector and voluntary sector players, and putting the players on an equal playing field is an important step in building trust and a platform for good collaboration.

We will be publishing case studies and examples of how this is working in practice over the coming weeks, along with more detail on the models and principles of good engagement.

How you can get involved

Simply complete this form to register your interest, and we will include you in email bulletins and invitations to networking and learning opportunities. And do please email us your stories of creating system change and what you have learned.

Transforming Healthcare Together

NCVO is also working with our partners IVAR and Social Enterprise UK, developing a free support offer for health, care and voluntary sector leaders who want to drive action through partnership working. There is a range of support for different levels, whether you are just getting started or have been working in this way for some time. This includes a practice development network which will be exploring topics such as how to embed and systematise the learning from pilot projects and how to go about measuring the impact of new approaches. The next webinar is on 23 May.

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Lev Pedro Lev is our public services senior officer. His work supports voluntary organisations to succeed in tendering for public service contracts and develop consortia. He also leads on NCVO’s relationships with infrastructure organisations.

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