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Taking the first step towards social enterprise

Social enterprise is one way nurses can use their talents to find innovative ways to improve the quality of care they provide.

The ‘right to request’ is one of the commitments in High Quality Care for All. It means that PCT boards are obliged to consider proposals from NHS staff on how to improve local services through the creation of a social enterprise, and award it a contract if it addresses a gap in local services and is financially viable.

If you think that social enterprise is the right fit for you and your patients, you need to approach your PCT board with an ‘expression of interest’. This document must clearly show that you have considered the key issues of setting up a social enterprise, such as costs, objectives, timescales and the benefits to your patients and the community.

To help you develop this, Making an expression of interest: guidance and template and Making a difference: a guide to the Right to Request have been published on the DH website.

Making social enterprise work for you

Jo Pritchard is joint Managing Director of Central Surrey Health (CSH), whose 850 staff provide nursing and therapy services. Jo and her colleague Tricia McGregor formed CSH as a social enterprise in 2006 and all staff are co-owners with a 1p share in the business.

‘We have been able to show that you can improve patient care by putting clinicians in charge,’ says Jo.

‘Our waiting times for musculoskeletal physiotherapy are down from 16 weeks to between four and six, we have increased occupancy rates across all our community hospitals and reduced our length of stays.’

Jo admits that becoming a social enterprise was a big shift for everyone involved, but enthusiasm has increased as the co-owners start seeing the benefits. In 2008, for example, CSH won the Healthcare Top 100 award for Best Employer for Staff Participation.

In preparation for the transformation, Jo and Tricia talked to organisations within and outside the health sector and learned that, while they needed to increase their commercial understanding, they should not underestimate how well they knew their business.

‘This thinking formed the basis of our concept and belief that we could run our own high-quality, effective services,’ says Jo. ‘It is difficult not to be excited by a concept that combines patient-centred values with a commitment to operate effectively and add value to our local communities. It’s not for the faint hearted, but it is liberating and energising, and once you have experienced the opportunities and rewards you would not wish to turn back.’