The Voluntary and Community Sector in Health says the reforms in the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill "present a number of challenges and risks" to voluntary sector organisations delivering healthcare services.
The bill, which would encourage competition between public, private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver health services, is currently before parliament. The coalition’s 'listening exercise' on its proposals ended earlier this month.
The report was written while the listening exercise was taking place. It says: "New funding mechanisms, exacerbated by the financial climate, will leave many voluntary and community organisations vulnerable and create barriers to new entrants to the market.
"There is a risk that smaller organisations will be unable to compete on a level playing field, leaving the market dominated by a few large providers who may not have the trust of, or knowledge about, the local community. This would severely limit patient choice and competition."
The report warns that health charities are already struggling because they are losing funds from primary care trusts and local authorities. It says this could hinder the sector’s ability to prepare for a more competition-based model.
The report also says the long-term, preventive nature of many voluntary sector services means they might lose out on funding.
"Many services provided by the sector focus on wellness and prevention and, although in theory GP consortia should be incentivised to keep their populations well, the pressure to make immediate financial savings may take precedence over longer-term upstream investment," it says.
"Similarly, although advocacy and signposting will arguably be more important in the new system of choice and competition, budget constraints, rising real costs and social care cuts may mean that resources are diverted to ‘essential’ acute and crisis services."
The report says commissioners should be trained in how to work with voluntary and community organisations and the voluntary sector should find better ways of measuring its value to commissioners.