Health check: why our sector matters for health and wellbeing

Stethoscope pictureLast month saw the launch of a major joint review into the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector’s contribution to health and wellbeing. The review will consider whether partnerships between government and the sector are operating in the most effective way possible and how they might work better in future.

The review has been commissioned by the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England. It is supported by an advisory group of organisations from across the voluntary and social enterprise sector and funding organisations.

To capture the experiences of voluntary sector organisations, Compact Voice, NCVO and ACEVO are organising a series of roundtables focused on how to build the sustainability and capacity of the sector. If you’re an organisation working in health and social care or in another field that contributes to wider health outcomes and you’d like to participate, we’d love to hear from you.

But, first, what is the contribution of the voluntary sector to health and wellbeing? Why is the review needed? And what exactly are we hoping to achieve?

The enormous potential of our sector

The figures speak for themselves:  there are around 36,000 voluntary sector organisations working in health or social care in the UK, and 3 million volunteers within the sector in England alone. These range from tiny grassroots organisations that help a seldom heard group influence local plans, to national charities which deliver vital services for thousands of people. Voluntary sector organisations are typically close to communities and expert at helping people with complex needs.

We also use operating models such as volunteers that deliver wider social benefits outside of the scope of particular projects and programmes.  One example of the type of service offered is the Volunteering in Care Homes project, which recruits volunteers to provide companionship and support for older care home residents.

And let’s not forget those organisations working in fields linked to the wider determinants of health. Think about social prescribing, which links patients to non-medical sources of support in their community. Arts and culture for example can have a huge beneficial impact on health and wellbeing – so the Cultural Commissioning Programme is working to build stronger relationships between arts organisations and commissioners. 

The double squeeze on health and social care

Right now, the work of voluntary organisations is more crucial than ever. Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, local authorities will have seen a 37% reduction in central government funding; further large cuts in both central and local government spending are expected to continue until at least 2020. At the same time, demographic change, technological advances and rising public expectations mean that the demand for health and social care services is increasing.

The implications of this double whammy are enormous. To give one example: on the same day that the review was launched, the Local Government Association released research which shows that the cost of caring for the elderly will require an additional £1.1 billion in 2015/16. This is money which councils will have to divert from other services, many of which contribute to wider wellbeing – including parks, leisure centres and transport.

Overcoming obstacles to realising the potential of partnership working

So it’s essential that government and the voluntary sector continue to work together – but this means making an honest appraisal of the obstacles in the way of good partnerships.

First, the cuts have had a huge impact on voluntary organisations: not only has the sector borne a disproportionate reduction in funding from government, but the pressure on public services has shifted some of the demand onto voluntary sector organisations instead.

Given constraints on funding, government bodies commissioning services are keen to find the lowest price in the short term. But the result is that higher price but better value solutions often offered by voluntary organisations lose out – with greater costs for the taxpayer in the long run.

Big contracts, big problems

Then there’s the changing environment of how government funding is provided. This includes the move from grants to large contracts; the enthusiasm for the payment-by-results model; and burdensome procurement processes conducted within short timescales. Such trends favour large organisations with strong cash flows – whether or not they can provide the best service.

Navigating the new commissioning landscape

Lastly, recent reforms mean that there are a number of new statutory bodies that voluntary sector organisations need to form relationships with – including clinical commissioning groups, health and wellbeing boards, and police and crime commissioners. Local Compacts can provide the space in which these diverse partners are brought together, and many areas are rising to the challenge - just look at Norfolk’s Voluntary Sector Engagement Project which furthers the strategic integration of the voluntary sector.

But even with the best of intentions, forming so many overlapping relationships is resource expensive. This at the very moment when voluntary organisations are cutting back on policy and advocacy functions to focus on delivering frontline services.

The review…and how to get involved

The Compact Voice/NCVO and ACEVO roundtables will be specifically focused on the sustainability of the VCSE sector and its ongoing capacity to deliver health and wellbeing. If you are interested in taking part, further details are available here.

Alternatively, you can get involved by leaving comments on the website, proposing guest blogs, or submitting evidence, case studies or research papers. Members of the advisory group are also happy to speak at events and contribute articles – have a look through the review overview document to find out more.
 
 

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