The future of West Essex Community Health Services

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Arm's length providers, Integrated care, Providers, Reports/papers, Social enterprise |

NHS West Essex Community Health Services | September 2009 | accesssed 26 October 2009 (pdf)

West Essex Community Health Services (WECHS) is the current provider arm (arms length trading organisation) of NHS West Essex. 

What is a social enterprise?

Social enterprise is a “badge” that a company or charity can adopt that brings certain benefits and says certain things about the ethos of the business. 

The key defining characteristics of a social enterprise are that it is not for profit, it works for the public benefit and any surpluses it makes are re-invested in the organisation. Beyond that social enterprises can be modelled in different ways to support the specific aims and purpose of the organisation. 

What all social enterprises share is an enterprising, innovative, business-based approach to achieving social and environmental aims.

A social enterprise can access monies through the Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) which an NHS trust is unable to do.

What is a not for profit company and how might it work?

The company is owned by staff who could be the shareholders. It is possible that it would be structured as a
company limited by shares of a nominal value, for example £1 each. The shares would be owned by staff and would not be available for resale. This means that staff could be the true owners of the business but without any personal financial risk. 

Shares could not be transferred and this would mean the business could not be bought by a third party. Any money saved or made by doing things better, differently, or by marketing developing services and products, could be re-invested for the benefit of patients and staff. If the company made a loss, it would need to look for greater efficiencies, just as an NHS trust would have to.

An alternative to a social enterprise

• PCT provider unit (current arrangement) 

This would be an arms length trading organisation (ALTO) within the PCT, led by a provider board and accountable to the PCT. This is essentially the structure which has been in place since April 2008. This is unlikely to remain an option given the long standing national policy to separate the commissioning and provider functions of PCTs. How long we could stay as an arms length trading organisation is unclear. There has been a public verbal statement from the Department of Health that ALTO will not be acceptable after April 2010, but this has not yet been enshrined in policy or guidance – the PCT Board are clear that this is not a long term option for WECHS.

• Community foundation trust (CFT)

CFTs are independent organisations accountable to Monitor, an independent regulator, and not the Department of Health. They are legal entities in their own right – the PCT Board consider this not a viable option as WECHS is considered too small an organisation to become a CFT in its own right and would have to consider joining with another provider arm to pursue this option. This would not necessarily encourage the focus on local communities or integration with primary care which is at the heart of commissioning intentions. In any case there is little chance of many more community foundation trusts being established and the infrastructure costs of a new trust may in any case be unaffordable given the recession.

• Horizontal integration with other community care services

Integration of care services provided by the PCT with other community care services provided to the same population by other government agencies, and in particular by the local authority. This is not an option the PCT Board currently believes serves the needs of their commissioning plans. Currently many local authorities are transferring their directly provided services to the private or third sector. But not in partnerships with local GPs

• Vertical integration with an acute trust 

Integrate the PCT’s community services with acute care provided by Princess Alexandra NHS Trust or a neighbouring acute foundation trust – the aim of the commissioning plan is to transfer services from acute care to community and primary care settings not to increase the size of portfolio of acute services.

• Horizontal integration with a non acute trust for example mental health 

While these trusts often have a strong community focus which might be beneficial they also cover large geographical areas and are usually very specialised in what they do. This might detract fromlocally sensitive services.

• Managed dispersal

Through the procurement plan, services are gradually transferred to the organisations successfully awarded a contract. It is likely though that WECHS will need a temporary host while this happens as NHS West Essex are clear that they will not remain the hosting organisation.

• Integration with primary care forming a social enterprise model

Community services would be integrated with primary care services within west Essex. Staff and potentially GPs establish an organisation themselves which provides community services. This may be registered as a social enterprise, a not for profit organisation, working for the public benefit, that can re-invest any surplus in services – this is the PCT Board’s preferred option at this time and on which staff are now being consulted through this consultation paper.

• An integrated organisational model led by local GPs

This would be a company which would have a contract with the PCT. Apart from the social enterprise model described above, this is the only model that would secure the same benefits for patients of a locally focussed integrated service provider. For this reason, this is the PCT’s present preferred alternative option if staff do not want to establish a social enterprise.

Big Changes For Staff And Patients At Saffron Walden Community Hospital

Saffron Walden Reporter | 23 October 2009

A SHAKEUP in the way health services in the region are run could mean big changes for staff and patients at Saffron Walden Community Hospital.

Some of the services currently delivered by NHS West Essex – the primary care trust (PCT) which covers Uttlesford – could become part of a new independent organisation.

If the plan gets the go-ahead it would mean that the hospital, as well as many other services such as district nursing and health clinics, will become a separate not-for-profit company known as a social enterprise.

Branch chairman of Unison (the union for public sector workers), Terry Ward, believes the proposals could give a raw deal to employees and service users.

“If this split happens then it’s possible that the PCT will buy cheaper services from elsewhere, rather than the facility at Saffron Walden, which makes a mockery of the idea of a community hospital,” he said.

“And staff, who have worked for the NHS for a long time and want to continue to work for the service which they are very proud of, are now being asked to privatise themselves.”

“A lot of resources are being used to push the social enterprise model and we want to make sure that employees are fully aware what they are voting for.”

There are a number of alternatives to privatisation and staff will be given a vote on December 9, after a 90-day consultation, on whether to adopt the idea.

The vote concerns the future of the provider arm of the PCT, known as NHS West Essex Community Health Services, which has an annual income of £34 million and employs nearly 1000 people.

It provides health services in community hospitals, clinics, health centres, GP surgeries, children’s centres, schools and other locations across Uttlesford, Harlow and Epping Forest.

Managing director Vince McCabe said: “What ever happens, local people will continue to receive all their NHS services as they have before, free at the point of delivery, paid for out of the public purse and commissioned by NHS West Essex.”

He added that the social enterprise model would be the best way to “protect and develop” services for the future.

“It would give our frontline staff greater freedom to make decisions closer to patients,” he said. “They would also have a bigger say in how things are run.

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One Response to “The future of West Essex Community Health Services”

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A really interesting article


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