24 July 2013 - Press release

GP’s and commissioners need greater clarity about what the voluntary sector can offer in the new health and social care commissioning environment, says a new report by the Third Sector Research Centre. 

The report is based on an evaluation of a pilot project to develop positive relationships between voluntary sector organisations, commissioners and NHS practitioners. It demonstrates that intermediary support is needed to broker effective relationships between these groups.

The pilot project identified misconceptions amongst GPs about the professionalism of many voluntary organisations, and the fact that many of their services are delivered by paid staff. It highlighted the need for communication and relationship building to establish trust and raise awareness of the services that voluntary organisations offer, and the benefits they can provide for patient outcomes. 

The evaluation suggests that intermediaries can play an important part in communicating these benefits to GP practices, but must be able to command the respect of clinicians, speak their language and understand their operating environment.  

The research also highlighted the need for clarity from commissioners toward voluntary sector organisations. Voluntary organisations need to know what opportunities exist to engage in the new commissioning regime, at what level or scale services will be commissioned, and how they will be funded. It is important that commissioners and government bodies do not expect the voluntary sector to provide free services.

Heather Buckingham, who conducted the research, said “a significant investment of time and resources is needed to develop effective relationships between commissioners and voluntary organisations. The challenges highlighted by this evaluation suggest that Clinical Commissioning Groups would be wise to invest in programmes to assist voluntary organisations with the transition to the new commissioning environment, and ensure that they are able to position themselves appropriately and engage effectively with the new institutions.” 

The research report ‘Clarity, communication and reciprocity: key ingredients for productive relationships with voluntary and community sector organisations in the new health and social care commissioning environment’ was written by Heather Buckingham, Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham.

It is based on the evaluation of a pilot project commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group to support the development of productive relationships between the voluntary sector, the Clinical Commissioning Group and General Practitioners. Two local voluntary sector infrastructure organisations were commissioned to deliver the project.