Voluntary sector organisations have welcomed the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan, which sets out measures to enshrine voluntary sector involvement in the provision of local healthcare and a doubling of volunteer levels.
The plan, published yesterday, says the NHS will "continue to commission, partner with and champion local charities, social enterprises and community interest companies providing services and support to vulnerable and at-risk groups".
It says these organisations are "often leading innovators in their field" and the innovation they offer will need to be encouraged to address inequalities in health provision at a local level.
It adds that voluntary sector organisations will be part of a new NHS Assembly to advise the boards of NHS England and NHS Improvement as part of a guiding coalition to implement the plan.
The plan says there will be at least £2.3m of NHS England funding to expand successful volunteering programmes across the country as part of plans to double the number of NHS volunteers over the next three years.
Michael Birtwistle, public services manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told Third Sector that from a voluntary sector perspective the document was broadly positive in terms of its strategic direction.
"It is very meaningful that in this very significant document the voluntary sector is quite broadly integrated into the intentions that are being set out," he said.
He welcomed measures to ensure that voluntary sector organisations were represented on the partnership boards of integrated care systems, which bring together local organisations in some areas to redesign care and will be rolled out to cover the whole of England by April 2021.
The umbrella body Social Enterprise UK welcomed calls in the plan for the NHS to continue to work with social enterprises and the pledge to establish a ring-fenced local fund for primary medical and community services worth £4.5bn a year in real terms by 2023/24.
Peter Holbrook, chief executive of SEUK, said: "The recognition of social enterprises as driving innovation in health care and the extra funding for community health services in the long-term plan is very welcome.
"I hope that this clear message that the NHS must work with social enterprises will be taken on board by commissioners across the health service."
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, a charity that works to improve health and care in England, said the "ambitious plan" included a number of commitments that had the potential to improve the lives of many people.
"NHS leaders should be applauded for focusing on improving services outside hospitals and moving towards more joined-up, preventive and personalised care for patients," he said.