Pre-Covid, SEUK had begun to progress work to address the imbalances faced by health and social care social enterprises in relation to their NHS friends and colleagues. There seemed to be a low awareness of the role social enterprises play in this sector, particularly within the NHS, which often had unintended consequences when new policy decisions were announced. This coupled with proposed changes to primary legislation meant that going into the pandemic the environment for healthcare social enterprises was already a little challenging.

It also meant that work SEUK had set in motion to specially address this stalled. A roundtable in October 2019, hosted jointly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and NHS England and NHS Improvement had identified specific areas of work to drive this agenda forward and SEUK had hosted a very successful visit by Sir Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England and NHS Improvement, to social enterprise healthcare provider Here in Brighton.

As the work to combat Covid-19 picked up a pace it was clear the lack of understanding and knowledge within DHSC and NHS England and Improvement was impacting on the experience of social enterprises delivering on the ground.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies

Many health and social care providers have struggled with PPE supply, with those initially prioritised by NHS Supply Chain including NHS Trusts providing Community Healthcare. A third of community healthcare is provided by social enterprises, but many found they were missed off the list of PPE push pallets (supplying large quantities of PPE) despite many previously being NHS customers. This was raised by SEUK with NHS England and NHS Improvement, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and with cross party members of the lords,  Lord Victor Adebowale, Lord Bethel and Baroness Glenys Thornton. This enabled Professor Jo Pritchard, who leads on SEUK’s work in this space, to establish  a good relationship with the senior team at NHS Supply Chain and ensure that all our eligible members’ were registered correctly and were receiving sufficient and appropriate PPE, to the right locations.

Unfortunately not all our members were of sufficient size to be eligible for PPE deliveries from NHS Supply Chain and they had to look elsewhere for PPE provision. As a result SEUK set up our own dedicated webpage to link them to social enterprise providers of PPE.

Communications

Social enterprise organisations were frequently left out of regional and national communications, which meant time critical information such as key policy decisions and new operating procedures was not reaching our members in time. Many were reliant on local systems partners passing on information. SEUK was able to address this with contacts within NHS England and NHS Improvement to ensure our members were included on central communication lists, as well as relevant webinars that NHS England and NHS Improvement were hosting.

Timely communication from the centre still remains a challenge for many, and throughout the pandemic SEUK has been providing at least weekly briefings to our health and social care members to ensure they have key announcements and information as it is released in the public domain.

NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme

The NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme (which recruited an army of volunteers to support those with Covid 19 and those shielding or self-isolating) was only initially accessible for referrals from NHS providers with NHS email addresses. We were able to work with the NHS England and NHS Improvement team responsible for the scheme to register relevant members to ensure that their patients and users could make use of the volunteers.

7 SEUK members selected as pilot test sites    

In April, as testing capacity was ramped up, SEUK was able to link up seven health and care members with a pilot national testing project to test all staff and patients in the care settings in community health settings.

What’s next?

The demand from Covid-19 patients in acute settings has decreased, however there is an evolving understanding of what long term rehabilitation and care people being discharged into the community may need, so the stresses for many of our members have not diminished. At the same time providers are being asked to resume services that were halted or scaled back as a result of lockdown and a focus on Covid-19 patients.

SEUK will continue to support our members to be able to deliver the services they need to during this demanding time. However it is also important to pause for breath before leaping into the next sets of plans. This is a time to reflect on what has happened and what lessons can be learned, as well as assess what the future should look like. We should not be working to return to the way things were.

Our members have been extraordinary in their response, whether that’s supporting the systems that they work in to access PPE, introducing additional infection control measures to keep their employees and the people they care for safe, pivoting their business models to be even more responsive to local need or redeploying staff from childcare services to catering and care services as needed. We are incredibly proud that we have played a small part in supporting their work on the frontline at this time.

For more information about SEUK’s work on health and social care please contact at nancy.towers@socialenterprise.org.uk