There have been a number of changes in healthcare in the UK over recent years resulting in a number of delivery models and increased diversity of provider organisations. One of these models has been Social Enterprise for primary and community care. The Department of Health defines Social Enterprises as “business-like entrepreneurial organisations with primarily social objectives. Their surpluses are mostly reinvested back into their business or the community to help achieve their objectives and change people's lives for the better. Social enterprises are not driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners”.
Social Enterprises differ from traditional charities and voluntary organisations because the vast majority of their income is form trading goods and services rather than from donations. This gives them a degree of self-reliance and independence which puts them firmly in control of their own activities. Social enterprises come in many shapes and sizes, from small community-owned village shops to large organisations delivering public services; well known social enterprises include the Eden Project and the Big Issue.
It is estimated that there are more than 6,000 social enterprises delivering health and social care within the NHS (State of Social Enterprise Survey, 2009, Social Enterprise Coalition). This number continues to rise as more and more NHS professionals come to view social enterprise as a viable means of tackling unmet needs and health inequalities.
The Government's White Paper ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS' sets out the opportunity for NHS staff to “transform their organisations into employee-led social enterprises that they themselves control, freeing them to use their front-line expertise to structure services around what really works for patients”. Social enterprises can make important contributions to community health services. The DH has a programme of active support for social enterprises involved in the delivery of health and social care, in an attempt to “add value to current services, and to offer more choice and better quality to patients, as well as value for money”.
What are the advantages of social enterprise?
- The Department of Health outlines the advantages of Social Enterprises for patients and service users, health and social care organisations and the third sector.
...for patients and service users
- Social enterprises involve patients, staff and service users in designing the services they provide. This means that services are better tailored to meet patients' and service users' needs and are based on expert knowledge of a particular area.
- Social enterprises re-invest any surplus profits into the community or into service developments. This means that social enterprises very often benefit the whole community as well as the people who use their services.
...for health and social care organisations
- Social enterprise offers health and social care organisations the opportunity to deliver high quality services in ways that are flexible, non-bureaucratic and have the potential to deliver good value for money. It also allows health and social care organisations to deliver services that are tailored to their local population, and make a difference to the local community. Because staff have a stake in social enterprise organisations, experience has shown that they are very committed to the aims of the service, and that this delivers benefits for the organisation, for example, improved staff retention.
...for the third sector
- Third sector organisations have expertise in specific areas, and great understanding of the groups they represent. They understand how services should be delivered to best meet peoples' needs. Social enterprise models offer the opportunity for a sound commercial relationship between public sector commissioners of health and social care services and third sector providers of those services.
For more information visit the DH website and see:
Other useful information includes the following links:
Leading the way through social enterprise: The Social Enterprise Pathfinder Programme evaluation
Welcoming social enterprise into health and social care: A resource pack for social enterprise
providers and commissioners
Social Enterprise Guide to Health and Social Care for the Elderly
For any specific questions or support around social enterprises for health you can email DH at
Examples of Health Social Enterprises
9 November 2010