Social Enterprise - more support for staff needed

The University of Birmingham has been supporting managers and clinicians within the West Midlands who are seeking to develop a social enterprise. A recent paper, published by the University’s Third Sector Research Centre and authored by HSMC’s Robin Miller and Ross Millar, reflects on their experiences and the response of the local health systems in which they work. The authors note that there have been a number of barriers to staff who were keen to pursue this option, including a lack of support from senior managers and commissioners, many of whom did not believe that a social enterprise was the right model to deliver the particular service or posed too significant a risk.

The report makes recommendations for what could be done to encourage and support NHS staff to set up social enterprises in the future. In particular, commissioners need to give new social enterprises time to develop and set up systems that enable and encourage them to compete for current services or new work.

Robin notes: ‘The experience of the West Midlands region shows that there is a long way to go before there is widespread unleashing of entrepreneurial clinicians who set up their own social enterprises and achieve the innovation in health care that is hoped for. Perhaps the greatest challenge is enabling clinicians to see themselves as entrepreneurs and take the risks and opportunities that business will present them.’

The 'Right to Request' initiative was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008 as a process through which NHS clinicians and managers working in England could seek to develop a social enterprise to deliver Community Health Services. The Coalition Government has continued the scheme, and it is estimated that approximately 10% of the community health services currently provided by Primary Care Trusts are in the process of completing their business cases or have already launched as social enterprises.

Robin Miller and Ross Millar's report on the experiences of aspiring social entrepreneurs within the NHS has provoked considerable debate in the professional press.  The following are a sample of these articles.

Guardian Professional, 25 February 2011

Third Sector Online, 16 February 2011

More information

Contact Robin Miller,, +44(0)121 414 8018

Full report

Read the full report, 'Social enterprise spin-outs from the English health service: a Right to Request but was anyone listening?