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Social Enterprise & Primary Care

20th April 2006

20042006_primary_care.jpgA new King's Fund report, Social Enterprise and Community-based Care, suggests that the government could do more to support those seeking to set up social enterprise organisations. It concludes that Community-based organisations risk being left behind in the race to enter the primary care market, unless the government does more to support them.

The drive to open up the primary care market to a range of providers, including those from the independent sector and those forming social enterprises - which are business with primarily social objectives that reinvest financial surpluses to pursue those objectives, was raised in the government's recent White Paper on health care outside hospitals

The report says more needs to be done now to help new social enterprises to start-up, although it welcomes the government's vision of a range of different providers including those from the private sector. It suggests that without this help contracts in the market may be awarded to for-profit companies, which may leave little for social enterprises when they finally enter the sector. Social enterprises that are co-owned by staff and patients may be particularly well suited to the provision of primary and community care and the commissioning of NHS services by groups of general practices, argues the report.

The main recommendations in the report include:

- bringing forward the date (currently April 2007) for the government’s proposed Social Enterprise Unit which will provide advice, access to finance and developmental help to social enterprises
- creating guidance at a national level to aid the development of social enterprises in primary and community care
- ensuring that primary care trusts are accountable in providing support to the development of social enterprises
- providing support networks to potential leaders of social enterprises, allowing them to share ideas and problem solve jointly
- providing guarantees that NHS pension rights will continue to exist for staff transferring from the NHS to new social enterprise organisations.

If too much time passes before staff and patient led-organisations take shape, there may be little in the market left for social enterprises. Only by reducing barriers to entry in to the primary care market will the new vision of public ownership be made a reality, developing a truly diverse market in primary care, said the Report author, Dr Richard Lewis, King's Fund senior policy fellow.

King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson, commenting on the report, said that 'In the end what matters is the quality of care that is delivered in the new arrangements', and that encouraging variety in organisations 'should mean a key role for various forms of not for profit organisation'. With the right support and encouragement social enterprise could flourish in this environment, he added.

The report concludes by saying that social enterprise offers the prospect of a new degree of partnership working between the public health care professionals.

 

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