In Calderdale, the NHS and voluntary sector are working shoulder to shoulder to weather tricky tides | Soo Nevison

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Soo Nevison

Around eight years ago our organisation, Voluntary Action Calderdale, was approached by our then primary care trust chief executive, Rob Webster (now CEO of the NHS Confederation), with an idea. “I want to help support the capacity and capability of small voluntary sector groups,” said Rob “and I want you to help me do it.”

This was to be the start of a long journey and great partnership between ourselves, a voluntary sector support provider and the NHS in Calderdale. It was to become a truly equal partnership and one which is now gaining interest from other parts of the country.

So where have we been and what has our partnership achieved?

Since that initial conversation there have been many challenges for our local NHS, including the commissioning of its community services to external providers, a flu pandemic, the restructuring of primary care trusts into clinical commissioning groups and the transfer of public health back into the local authority. Alongside all of this were the challenges of engaging with and investing in local communities, with reduced manpower.

In Calderdale, we can hand on heart say that we worked in partnership to weather these challenges and change. How? By providing solutions such as a ‘Flu Friends’ service that mobilised within 24 hours of a meeting. By providing voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector input into Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and the commissioning of community services. By building up a network of community Engagement Champions to support engagement. By supporting our clinical commissioning group (CCG) to invest over £2 million into frontline groups to deliver better health outcomes in deprived communities, while building capacity and capability.

By listening to our local NHS and providing these innovative solutions, we have managed to build the confidence of commissioners over the past eight years.

But still one challenge remained. It was nicely put by a GP member of our CCG governing body when discussing the use of VCSE sector organisations as service providers:

GPs need to know about them, be confident about them and know that patients can access them and be confident in the services provided. Whilst there are no clear pathways or indicators, GPs prefer to refer patients into NHS services.” Calderdale CCG governing body member.

We have risen to this challenge by building on the good practice and initiatives we have delivered throughout our partnership with the NHS. It has enabled us to develop a quality system called Quality For Health, which provides the kind of assurances GPs need.

Quality For Health supports VCSE sector organisations to demonstrate the outcomes of their health services, through rigorous external assessment. It covers nine key areas, giving reassurance in areas such as service user (patient) experience, safety and safeguarding, and effectiveness within service delivery. It also supports preventative and self-management approaches, which VCSE sector organisations are well placed to address given their reach into communities that experience the greatest inequality.

It’s been given the local seal of approval and NHS England has taken an interest in our work. We are currently trialling it in Calderdale and other parts of the UK.

We are excited as it has truly given our GPs the indicator they desired, putting the patient and their health outcomes at the centre of VCSE service delivery. Other work on social prescribing developments will complete the wish list by providing those clear pathways our GPs desire, increasing their access to self-management and preventative approaches in the community.

Furthermore our social prescribing plans and quality system are suitable pathways and indicators for all our local NHS colleagues, regardless of whether they are in primary, secondary, acute or community care.

So after eight years of concentrated work, our journey is ready for its next stage.

We would be delighted to talk to colleagues about our quality system, and other work to explore ways of developing our services further for the benefit of patients across the country.

Feel free to drop us a line, or if you are in Manchester for the NHS Expo in September, come and find us at our Quality For Health stand.

Dr Soo Nevison is chief officer at Voluntary Action Calderdale, part of the Calderdale Health and Social Care Economy vanguard. Follow Soo on Twitter @CEO_VAC

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