Developing and investing in the voluntary sector as a distinct form of health and care provision is crucial if we are to create a sustainable, resilient health and care system which supports us all to live well. The voluntary sector brings value into the system which money alone cannot buy. But just as important is the extent to which voluntary sector organisations are involved in planning those services: co-designing the local health and care goals and playing a full part in developing responses to meet local needs and building on local assets and community responses.
This is the conclusion of the final report from the VCSE Review, a joint review by the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England into partnerships and investment in voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in the health and care sector, published last month. (You can read Clinks response to the VCSE Review consultation here)
The report contains 28 recommendations for government, local agencies and the voluntary sector; many of which will be very familiar to Clinks' regular readers, echoing similar calls we have made to improve voluntary sector engagement in the criminal justice landscape.
Some of the main themes from the recommendations include:
- A call to place the voluntary sector at the heart of local planning and commissioning processes - including a requirement for all future transformation programmes to include proposals for how they will involve the voluntary sector; improved guidance on engaging with the sector for Health and Wellbeing Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups, and others; greater transparency on the level of voluntary sector engagement in commissioning; and stronger use of the Social Value Act and Compact
- A 'simplest-by'default' approach to funding - developing a more considered range of funding approaches including grants, contracts, social prescribing models, and personal budgets; with commissioners encouraged to always use the simplest possible mechanism appropriate. It also advocates for greater use of long-term funding to cover core costs for services and capacity building, in preference to short-term pilot funding
- A welcome focus on equality and health inequalities - the report recognises the vital role the voluntary sector can play in amplifying the voices of people from communities whose voices are seldom heard, helping them to engage with the health and care system; and acknowledges the uneven impact of austerity which has left small, local and equalities-focussed organisations 'facing an imminent crisis in many areas'
- Several recommendations on supporting the sector to make better use of evidence, including co-producing service objectives; developing standard tools for outcome measurement, including for prevention work; and greater sharing of data and evaluation results. Interestingly the report also recommends the creation of a 'wellbeing data lab' modelled on the Justice Data Lab, to give providers from all sectors access to anonymised patient data to assess the impact of their services. (Read more about the Justice Data Lab here).
The VCSE Review was also specifically tasked with evaluating the Department of Health's central grants programmes, collectively known as the Voluntary Sector Investment Programme, which Clinks and a number of our members have received funding through in recent years. The report cites 'overwhelming support' for the continuation of the programme, despite significant cuts to the amount of funding which will be available. It therefore recommends the three current strands of the programme - volunteering, innovation/excellence, and the strategic partner programme - are combined into a single 'health and wellbeing programme', albeit still including both project and strategic engagement funding.
The project funding 'should be used to demonstrate effective models for supporting local infrastructure to tackle health inequalities and better embedding VCSE groups who with expertise in this area into local health and care systems'. A joint working group of voluntary and statutory sector partners would agree specific health inequalities and/or locations where the programme should be targetted. Given the level of health inequalities faced by people in contact with the Criminal Justice System, Clinks will unsurprisingly be advocating for this to be one of the key areas to focus on!