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Community businesses can ease the strain on the NHS, says MDX academic

12/07/2018
New research report highlights how community businesses delivering health and well-being services in England should be supported to ease the strain on the NHS

The report, led by Dr Bianca Stumbitz and published in partnership between the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR) based at MDX and Social Enterprise UK. It was funded by Power to Change, the independent trust supporting community businesses in England, and sets forward recommendations which policy makers and commissioners can adopt in order for these organisations to thrive.

Community businesses rooted in their local area are keeping people out of hospital. They offer services tackling issues from isolation and loneliness to keeping people fit and healthy in their daily lives. From using the arts to combat mental health issues, to wellbeing centres bringing together elderly residents, community businesses are central to building a health service based on prevention.

But critically, research found that in the continued climate of austerity, community businesses are struggling to be sustainable as there is increased competition for the limited funding available. The report urges commissioners of health and social care services to nurture community businesses in their area in order to offset problems in the future.

"Our study shows how community businesses are able to deliver effective ways of tackling some of the more complex health and wellbeing issues facing society. They provide ‘spaces of wellbeing’ through their ability to link a range of different approaches, including specific therapeutic services for those suffering from mental and physical health conditions as well as the provision of supports to build self-esteem and vocational skills, and tackling social isolation and loneliness." Dr Bianca Stumbitz, Centre for Enteprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex 

In particular, the report puts forward two key recommendations:

  • NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care and local authorities need to recognise the potential of community businesses to deliver effective services in their local area and ease the pressure on the wider NHS.
  • Commissioners of health services need to better use the Social Value Act to consider the wider social impact of the services they commission, which, in turn will allow community businesses to flourish.

Dr Bianca Stumbitz, Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University London:

“Our study shows how community businesses are able to deliver effective ways of tackling some of the more complex health and wellbeing issues facing society. They provide ‘spaces of wellbeing’ through their ability to link a range of different approaches, including specific therapeutic services for those suffering from mental and physical health conditions as well as the provision of supports to build self-esteem and vocational skills, and tackling social isolation and loneliness. Community businesses thus offer innovative ways of tackling health issues that promote healthier living and support the economic and social inclusion of those who are at risk of being left behind. These impacts may differ from the conventional ‘biomedical’ approaches to health and there is a need for greater investment in building the evidence base so that their benefits and complementarity with mainstream services can be better assessed.”

Claire Mansfield, Director of Research at Social Enterprise UK commented:

"The NHS is rarely out of the headlines and whilst we celebrate 70 years of its outstanding achievements we need to permanently keep one eye focused on its long-term sustainability and how it can create the best outcomes for service users. Community businesses embedded in the areas in which they work and delivering services, often co-created with the people who use them, are pointing the way to what a service based on prevention and wellbeing can look like. Government and commissioners need to get behind these organisations removing regulatory barriers where they exist and encouraging better use of the Social Value Act so that the additional value created by community businesses is recognised"

Ailbhe McNabola, Head of Research and Policy at Power to Change added:

“We are pleased to support the work of Middlesex University and Social Enterprise UK through the funding of this report, they are both highly regarded in their fields. Power to Change believes there is good potential for community business to make a notable contribution to the health sector, which is why we’ve launched a Community of Practice and are investing in this area ourselves. It’s important to have better evidence of both the contribution community businesses can make, and the barriers that hold back growth in the sector.  We welcome this research and look forward to the ensuing debate.”

Find out more about the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR)

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