Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NHS commissioners can use their budgets to get maximum local benefit

NHS commissioners can use their budgets to get maximum local benefit: The potential rewards of using NHS commissioning power to enhance communities should be embraced wholeheartedly

The Public Services (Social Value) Act, which comes into effect in January 2013, places a legal duty on public service commissioners to take account of social value when procuring services.
In these financially constrained times we're all looking for ways to make the money in our purse go as far as possible. As new commissioning organisations take hold of the NHS purse strings they will want to do the same for local people and communities, getting maximum benefit out of every penny they spend.
Commissioners have a responsibility to ensure that the taxpayers' money they spend helps, not hinders, local communities, and raises the profile of health among the populations they serve. This is social value – the benefits which public services can achieve beyond simple financial value, including wellbeing, health, employment and inclusion.
With clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), made up of local GPs and grounded in local communities, deciding how to spend the vast majority of the NHS's £80bn commissioning budget, there is enormous potential for achieving significant extra value and improving the health and wellbeing of local people as they do.
Legal experts have written about the pitfalls the new legislation could create, and it's true that it might take a little time to feel comfortable in the new landscape. But the potential reward of using the NHS's significant commissioning power to enhance the health and wellbeing of our communities is simply too great not to embrace wholeheartedly.
The NHS in north west England is already part of a forward-thinking network of organisations committed to promoting social value, through the North West Social Value Foundation set up in 2010. This group's work focuses on three main ways NHS organisations could add social value: through delivering social value as a by-product of mainstream business, for example buying goods and services locally; creating an organisational culture that highlights the importance and benefits for the community of adding social value; and realising social value which already exists in community resources, for example local professional sports teams helping to get across healthy living messages.
For CCGs taking the reins in 2013, there is a real opportunity to start as they mean to go on. And health and wellbeing boards will be well placed to support both local authorities and NHS commissioners to make social value part of the fabric of improving health and wellbeing within their localities across all sectors – local authority, NHS, voluntary and private employers.
At times, the NHS can act as though it's forgotten that it's funded by and part of the community it serves. New opportunities will also be provided by strengthening community engagement and involvement through local Healthwatch organisations, the bodies being established to provide a strong voice for local people and one which must be taken into account when planning local services.
With the Social Value Act coming into effect in the new year and new commissioners putting the finishing touches to their set-up over the coming months, it could be the perfect combination of factors for social value to get the time, space and priority it deserves. It's too valuable for us not to.
Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation The Guardian 

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