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Slow takeup for key Big Society social enterprise scheme

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A government programme designed to enable nurses to set up social enterprises to run their own services has seen slow take up, amid fears about job security.

There have been just three applications confirmed so far under the “right to provide” scheme, which enables NHS staff to “spin out” and run services themselves - but none of them has been approved. The initiative, which launched in March, is a key element of the government’s flagship Big Society set of policies.

The programme follows the “right to request”, which saw social enterprises set up in NHS community services.

Oxford Learning Disability NHS Trust has seen two proposals. One, from the trust’s social care team, was withdrawn during discussions with the board. Another, covering community services in Buckinghamshire, was turned down because the application lacked detail.

Kent Community Healthcare’s dental services submitted an expression of interest in July, but the application was turned down. The bid is expected to be re-submitted later this year.

Nursing Times has learned that other applications are being prepared, focused on small teams delivering specialist services.  Among them are a sexual health clinic in London, a musculoskeletal service in the North West, and nursing services for patients with long-term conditions in the South Central region.

Work is also underway by staff at the East Midlands deanery to set up a social enterprise before the final deadline for expressions of interest of 31 December..

Barrie Brown, national officer for health at Unite, said that the uncertainty surrounding the structure of the NHS was discouraging nurses from setting up their own social enterprises.

He told Nursing Times: “The outcome of the [Health and Social Care] Bill is yet to be determined in parliament – and any qualified provider will come in from April. People will be apprehensive, and wondering what long-term security there is in this.”

Meanwhile, one of the best-known NHS social enterprises, Central Surrey Health, lost out to private firm Assura Medical in its bid to take over community services in south west and north west Surrey.

Central Surrey, which is run by nurses and therapists, lost out on the £450m contract, despite previously being praised by the Cabinet Office for cutting costs.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It isn't just uncertainty, it's also about a lack of information, a lack of support, etc etc.

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