Social care providers call for voluntary sector to have central role amid NHS cuts and uncertainty


VODGSocial care providers today call for the voluntary sector to be recognised as central to the NHS and health system. The message is outlined in a new publication from VODG (Voluntary Organisations Disability Group) that describes the reasons for closer partnership.


In today’s paper – What can the voluntary sector do to encourage greater engagement and collaboration with the health system? – the latest in a thought leadership series, VODG describes the challenges and solutions to more joined up approaches to health and care. The publication is based on a recent VODG debate between chief executive and senior directors with NHS leaders, which investigated opportunities for partnership between health and voluntary groups.


The need for such alignment is the subject of the recent joint review of partnerships and investment relating to voluntary organisations in the health and social care sector. Today’s paper notes that collaboration is even more vital amid ongoing funding cuts and post-Brexit-related uncertainties relating to workforce, funding, policy and legislation. In addition, the vanguard sites under 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 the voluntary organisations as a fragmented group. Health commissioners, today’s paper notes, are also inclined to focus on the traditional “medical model” of support rather than consider community-based provision.


Actions that voluntary care providers could take to move closer to health include:


·      using “health-sector friendly” language to support greater engagement (ditching social care jargon, for example, or acknowledging the pressures on A&E)

·      arguing the potential of the Social Value Act (which means commissioners should take into account social and environmental value when choosing support providers)

·      taking a collective stance with peers (those doing similar work in the same geographical area) to clarify the benefits of the voluntary sector to health partners

·      encouraging trustees to take a more proactive role in building bridges with health, and raising the profile of social care and the voluntary sector.


Today’s VODG paper includes a successful example of health and voluntary sector partnership, an “alliance contract” launched in April 2015 in Lambeth, south London. The single contract is operated by Lambeth council, the clinical commissioning group, 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 settings and 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 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.”


Director of think tank Collaborate Dr Henry Kippin said:


“The sustainability of our health system will increasingly depend on deeper collaboration across different sectors and settings, with the voluntary sector playing a critical role in more integrated models of out-of-hospital care. Devolution of health and social care is a massive opportunity. But experience tells us that real collaboration will not happen by accident. It takes courage to work outside of sector comfort zones and put outcomes for the public over vested interests. So we welcome the focus VODG is putting on building the readiness of its partners to lead this in practice at a local level.”


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