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Recognise voluntary sector as core to NHS and wider health system

Essential amid continuing financial squeeze and Brexit fears, says social care sector

Caroline White

Monday, 15 August 2016

The voluntary sector should be recognised as an integral part of the NHS and the wider health system, says a new report published today by the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VDOG).

A close working partnership has never been more vital, given the continuing financial squeeze and persistent Brexit anxieties, says the report.

What can the voluntary sector do to encourage greater engagement and collaboration with the health system? is the latest publication in a thought leadership series, describing the challenges and solutions to more joined up approaches to health and care.

The report draws on a recent VODG debate between voluntary sector chief executives and senior directors with NHS leaders, examining opportunities for partnership between health and voluntary groups.

It notes that ongoing funding cuts and anxieties about workforce, funding, policy and legislation in the wake of Brexit, make the need for collaboration even more pressing.

Furthermore, the vanguard sites under the aegis of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View aim to deliver more integrated services while Greater Manchester and Cornwall are among the first areas to win devolution and the chance to reshape local and regional health, care and support.

Among the challenges to closer working is the relationship with health commissioners, many of whom often regard voluntary sector organisations as a fragmented group. Health commissioners, today’s report notes, are also inclined to focus on the traditional “medical model” of support rather than consider community-based provision.

Voluntary care providers could narrow the gap with the health sector, says the report. Using “health-sector friendly” language and ditching social care jargon, for example, and acknowledging the pressures on emergency services, would be a good start.

And organisations need to make the case for realising the potential of the Social Value Act, which obliges commissioners to take account of social and environmental value when choosing support providers.

They should also club together to spell out the benefits of the voluntary sector to health partners in the same geographical area, suggests the report, which additionally recommends that trustees take a more proactive role in building bridges with health, and raising the profile of social care and the voluntary sector, in general.

The report includes a successful example of health and voluntary sector partnership, in the form of an “alliance contract” launched in April 2015 in Lambeth, south London.

The single contract is operated by Lambeth council, the CCG, voluntary and community-sector organisations Thames Reach and Certitude, and service provider the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust.

Objectives and risks are shared, with provision shifting away from high cost, bed-based care towards supporting people at home, at a lower cost. Around 200 people with mental health needs are supported in this way and the programme is on track to achieve a 20% saving in two years. Contract incentives are focused on rehabilitation and recovery, so all the partners have an equal stake in boosting and maintaining people’s health.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, VODG chief executive, said: “We are in unsettling times. Funding cuts, Brexit, public service reform and new models of service delivery are all combining to rapidly change the landscape in which health and care operates.

“Yet the voluntary sector boasts many innovative projects with well-established and positive outcomes – like the new contract in Lambeth. It is vital to spread the word about such approaches and the subsequent impact on communities; they are persuasive examples of what truly collaborative working between health and voluntary partners can achieve.”

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