Train in Vain - Sue Dovey's blog


The NHS, the not-for-profit sector and the variable standards

Last week I attended a workshop with health professionals in Hampshire, discussing partnership working. I asked them how they might benefit from working with not-for-profit organisations (NfPs) and what, if any, were the barriers.
The most common answers to those questions were revealing. Most health professionals were unclear what the benefits might be. Conversely there was clarity and a fair degree of homogeneity to their answers to the second question. The 2 main barriers to working with us were:
• not knowing who or where we are, and
• the variable quality of the services we deliver.

The response to the second point seemed simple to me – the quality of the services of NfPs are indeed variable but surely no more variable than those of the different elements of the NHS themselves.

However, the response to the first question is also fairly straightforward, though probably not what my health colleagues wanted to hear. There are well over 4,000 registered charities in Hampshire and, perhaps, a similar number of NfPs that are not registered charities (co-ops and CICs to name but 2). You will never know them all (even using a comprehensive database, which one participant’s organisation was working on, will not tell you that either as it will be out of date the moment it is produced).

I explained to those listening that the not-for-profit sector has its own support framework. There are organisations like mine, Action Hampshire, and our locally based sister organisations, such as Community First Wessex. Our role includes making connections between NfPs and other sectors. Health professionals might consider telling us their area of interest – frailty, adolescent mental health etc., and we can tell them which relevant organisations exist locally.

So the barriers can be overcome. The cultural differences may be harder to resolve. For some of the health professionals, they see NfPs as so different from their own organisations and the systems within which they work, they cannot see how co-operation with this sector could possibly be of benefit. Additionally, there are worrying misconceptions:
- the NfP sector is only volunteers and that they are a “free” resource;
-NfPs have endless capacity
-that voluntary equals amateur

I was also worried by suggestions that engagement just means speaking to one person who can universally represent a whole client group – or even worse, setting up a representative group, e.g. a PPG, and then not engaging with it, as if the setting up of it was an end in itself.

Engagement is a dialogue and true representation requires training, a remit, having timely and wide access to those you are representing etc Oh dear, I can feel another workshop coming on!