New report We’re better together shares eight factors that have enabled health partnerships to respond effectively to Covid-19.

Previous barriers to the NHS, councils and the voluntary sector working together – such as information governance, organisational boundaries or agendas, and lack of trust – were removed, or set aside, in order to respond swiftly to a ‘tsunami of need’. This isbased on learning from 11 partnerships in different areas of England, who took part in the Building Health Partnerships programme – delivered by IVAR with SEUK, and jointly funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and NHS England and NHS Improvement.

As a result of working together, health partnerships:

  • Reached the most isolated and vulnerable community members
  • Protected against overwhelming demand on statutory health services
  • Improved referral pathways and access to services
  • Provided a more focused/targeted response when required
  • Ensured that services meet local needs
  • Distributed information to communities quickly and efficiently
  • Built on, and made best use of, community assets (e.g. volunteers)
  • Ensured the right people are at the decision-making table. 

‘Without the third sector, Wirral wouldn’t have been able to cope and mitigate against the impact of Covid-19 the way it has.’ 

Eight factors contributed to improvements in partnership working across the health system:

  1. Having a common purpose
  2. Sharing a sense of urgency
  3. Recognition and appreciation of each other’s strengths
  4. Involvement of the VCSE sector from day one
  5. Removing bureaucracy and hierarchy where appropriate
  6. Communication and dialogue
  7. Sharing and collating data and intelligence
  8. Agility of the VCSE sector

For those who are considering how to support people and communities as we enter winter, in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19, there are three recommendations:

  1. Start a conversation: ‘Keep it simple – don’t try to overcomplicate things and recognise we won’t get it all right straight away … Get on with what we can do now and keep learning – relationships take time, so invest time and resources into doing this.’
  2. Share data: Many voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations have significant experience and skill in supporting vulnerable people; and they can make a huge difference. But they can’t help if they don’t know where to target their support.
  3. Streamline processes: Take advantage of the fact that, in many cases, things are happening more quickly at the moment. This can highlight processes that are onerous or unnecessary – you may still need to ask all the same questions, but could a ten-step process become a four-step process? Are different organisations in your area asking for the same information? Any steps to make things quicker and easier for people should be taken now.

Ben Cairns, Director of the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) said:

‘Since March, we have seen practitioners and leaders come together across sectoral and disciplinary boundaries, united by a common purpose, and motivated by the recognition that no one sector is able to meet the challenges of Covid-19 alone. By working together, and drawing on each other’s strengths and assets, a more powerful response has been possible.’

Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) said:

‘This year has been challenging to say the least for many. From what I’ve seen working collaboratively, with and for communities has been the most effective way of responding to the pandemic and the impact it’s had on individuals. This briefing is required reading for anyone seeking to work in this way.’


Notes to editors

  • The report can be downloaded at the following link from 0001 on Thursday 5 Nov:
  • We’re holding a virtual conference on 17 and 18 November to explore the role of cross-sector health partnerships during the pandemic. We’ll explore managing the digital divide, how collaboration may help with addressing health inequalities and how partnerships have been working together in recent months – and over the years.
  • This research draws on examples and learning from participants of the Building Health Partnerships programme[1], which builds relationships between the NHS (Integrated Care Systems), local government, citizens and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations to facilitate joint action that improves the outcome of local health and care priorities.
  • The 11 partnerships mentioned are: Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK); Dorset; Humber, Coast and Vale; Lancashire and South Cumbria; North Cumbria; Oldham; South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw; Surrey Heartlands; Wakefield; Wirral; and Worcestershire.

About the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR)

We arean independent research charity that worksclosely with organisations that are striving for socialchange. From the very small that directly support the most vulnerable in their local communities, to those that work nationally – across the voluntary, public and funding sectors. We use research to develop practical responses to the challenges faced and create opportunities for people to learn from our findings. We bring to the project over 17 years’ worth ofresearch experience and a network of cross-sector,multi-disciplinary relationships.

About Social Enterprise UK (SEUK)

We are the largest network of certified social enterprises in the UK and the leading global authority on social enterprises. Together with our members we are the voice for the sector. We raise awareness through our advocacy and campaigns and build the evidence base for social enterprises through our research. We have led public policy for 15 years, helping pass the Social Value Act, and are a strategic partner to government. We exist to increase the profile of the sector and build the markets for our members – working with some of the UK’s biggest companies to support them to bring social enterprises into their supply chains. Our members reflect the diversity of the sector ranging from local grass-roots organisations to multi-million-pound businesses. We see social enterprise as the future of business.

Delivered in partnership by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research and Social Enterprise UK, with support on sustaining and sharing learning – under the banner of Transforming Healthcare Together – from The King’s Fund and NCVO. Funded in partnership by NHS England and NHS Improvement and the National Lottery Community Fund.