Minister promises 'vital role' for charities in healthcare blueprint

Mathew Little

The voluntary sector will be at the forefront of Government plans to radically expand preventive and community-based health services.

In an interview with Third Sector, Liam Byrne, health minister, said the Government would pump £14bn into "round-the-clock and round-the-corner" health services, and charities will play a vital role.

"The challenge is to ensure the health and social care system goes into every corner of every community, and the voluntary sector is going to be crucial in helping us do that," he said. "This is not just because of the innovation it brings to the table but because it is in those communities already."

He said the Government wanted to follow the example of countries such as Sweden, where more than half of health spending is in services in the community rather than hospitals.

Byrne was speaking before today's inaugural meeting of a Department of Health cross-sector task force, which will examine how to break down barriers that stop voluntary sector organisations from delivering "person-centred health and social care services".

He said the involvement of social enterprises in health and care services could have benefits for regeneration. "We are trying to put together microbusinesses that can deliver health and social care contracts in a way that is better for local people and will create jobs," he said.

He also promised to look into the length of contracts voluntary sector organisations are offered by the NHS. "We write PFI contracts for 20 years, but the voluntary sector is often on an annual contracting cycle," he said.

Jo Williams, chief executive of Mencap and co-chair of the task force, said there was a need to simplify the processes voluntary organisations had to go through, such as pitching for contracts.

"People are asked to tender for work - there is a huge investment made in putting a proposal together, but that's all dead money," she said.

KEY POINTS

- Liam Byrne has announced that the voluntary sector will have a role to play in plans to extend preventive and community-based health services

- He said the Government would invest £14bn into "round-the-clock and round-the-corner" health services

- He claims the involvement of social enterprises in such services could have benefits for regeneration

- The minister has promised to investigate the length of NHS contracts.

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