It turns out 2021 is much the same as 2020. Covid-19 still exists and we find ourselves in another lockdown in the next wave of the pandemic which is harder and more sustained than the previous waves. It feels tough and that is from a perspective of staying at home attempting to home school and stop a toddler from destroying the house.

On the real frontline, our health and social care members continue to protect the most vulnerable and support the national effort against the pandemic. In the South West, Livewell Southwest have been involved in setting up and running the Exeter Nightingale Hospital to treat patients with Covid-19. Like many others of our health and social care members they are supporting individuals to be discharged from hospital early making much needed space in Acute care. Livewell Southwest have re-purposed staff and visitor accommodation to open a new Care Hotel, relieving pressure on local hospitals by providing space for recovering patients who are not quite ready to go home without support.

Our social care members continue to make sure that those they support are kept safe as well as fight for their users’ rights to receive the care they need. Turning Point has supported individuals with a learning disability and their families to challenge Do not attempt CPR (DNACPR) orders placed on their medical notes inappropriately. In some instances, this had led to individuals not receiving the treatment they needed when contracting Covid-19. They used this experience to develop and produce guidance to enable others to do the same.

This time however the approved vaccines do offer hope that there will be an end to this. And of course, social enterprises are playing key roles in the vaccine programme delivery. Sirona in Bristol and CSH Surrey have both been involved in setting up and staffing the mass vaccination sites, others such as Here are running local vaccination sites.

These are extraordinary times and we know that our members working in this sector have been and continue to be working under extreme pressure.

At SEUK we are working closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement to ensure that social enterprises are able to operate on a level playing field with their NHS peers ensuring that; they are included in important Covid-19 related communication, that they receive lateral flow tests to regularly test staff and that their workforce are included in vaccinations. We are also raising the profile of social enterprise nurses with the Chief Nursing Officer.

Earlier this month we responded to an NHS England consultation on the future of Integrated Care Systems, which sets out NHS England’s ideas for how local healthcare systems will work. As a sector we’re supportive of the proposed move towards more collaborative and integrated care but unsure that the proposals would offer this without further safeguards and guidance.  There is a real risk of a reduction in diversity of providers, a lack of transparent decision making and of marginalisation of non-NHS Trusts in some less able systems.

We are also looking to the future and the role social enterprises can play in recovery once the virus is under control. We know we will be left with a very different health and care system, a workforce that needs respite and care and a huge backlog of non-Covid care to deliver. We know that social enterprises can have a key role in addressing these challenges as well as tackling the chasm that Covid-19 has further revealed in health outcomes between the richest and poorest in our country. With the pandemic showing the vital importance of carers and the barriers they face, our community of social enterprises working in social care need to have a seat at the table in shaping the future of how we operate and value social care. Their voice is needed more than ever given the  current lack of a Government plan for social care.

Whatever happens next we know that 2021 will not be business as usual especially in health and social care. This is the time for social enterprises to lead the way to a fairer and healthier future for all.