News Article

Social enterprises and health care delivery: what works? by Allice Hocking & Lorna Bell


Interest in social enterprises as providers of public services has increased dramatically in recent years. Initially forming part of New Labour's 'Third Way' philosophy in the late 1990s, attention has been renewed under the current Coalition Government.

Recent changes to the commissioning environment, such as the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and the Open Public Services White Paper present increased opportunities for social enterprises to engage with public service delivery.

Social enterprises which deliver health care have seen a considerable growth in 2013 and in the demands of setting them up, evaluations are rarely a priority. How will we know whether they work - and, more likely, which elements work and why? It is important to know.

Ideally these new social enterprises will set up evaluations from the beginning. If designed properly this will allow them, and others, to reflect and understand the impact of this approach. Some of the areas to consider will be:

  • The impact on health outcomes;
  • The involvement of communities and users in service design and delivery;
  • Value for money;
  • Organisational change and staff perceptions;
  • Innovation and ability to respond to gaps and demands and
  • The impact on health inequalities.

Methods are likely to include collecting data on delivery of services, gathering views from service users and staff, consulting with stakeholders and setting up systems to monitor health outcomes and health inequalities.

On behalf of the Plymouth University led Social Enterprise University Enterprise Network (SE-UEN), SERIO carried out a scoping literature review to consider the potential of social enterprises as distinct providers of public services. Although the weight of evidence indicates that social enterprises have the potential to deliver public services that generate social value, there is little evidence to suggest that this potential is any greater than that for other forms of providers.

There have been few evaluations of social enterprises set up to deliver health care so far. If left too long not only will much of the learning be lost to new social enterprises but there will also be less time to reflect and ensure best delivery for service users.

Allice and Lorna both have extensive experience in undertaking research and evaluation studies in the health sector and recognise the importance of integrating evaluative elements at the outset of new and innovative delivery models.

Social Enterprise in a global context: the role of Higher Education InstitutesThe British Council has commissioned SERIO, and colleagues in Futures Entrepreneurial Centre, at Plymouth University to undertake a global study to inform Social Enterprise policy.
SERIO to conduct an evaluation of SkillsPlannerOver the next two years SERIO will be evaluating an exciting new Ethos-led initiative 'SkillsPlanner' which aims to solve skills shortages in the construction industry.

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