The importance of community organisations for local health

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Learnings from our first year on the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance.
13 Apr, 2022
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Our findings and recommendations aim to improve approaches to VCSE involvement in local health systems. Last year, we joined the government’s VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance (HW Alliance) in consortium with Locality.

Our role is to represent the voices of community organisations and community businesses in national policy decisions. By doing so, we want to help create effective community-led health and care services.

One of the key elements of our work on the HW Alliance is running projects alongside DHSC and NHS policy leads. The projects aim to use the vast experience of our network of organisations to better understand how they can, and do, contribute to local health.

This year, our projects have explored two issues:

1. Greater collaboration between Primary Care Networks and the VCSE sector

This project has been carried out with NHS England and NHS Improvement to understand the challenges and opportunities for collaboration at the PCN-VCSE level.

To do this, we’ve convened a Community of Practice made up of VCSE organisations, GPs, and other PCN staff to identify good practice and suggest solutions to common problems. Through the FutureNHS online platform, we’ve also facilitated a Community of Influence of wider cross-sector stakeholders to give their insight.

Finally, we conducted interviews with Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and their VCSE partners across England to understand the necessary culture for fostering good collaboration.

Through this, we understand more about the role of relationships, structures, and capacity and shared understanding in the creation of good collaboration. This has led to several recommendations for the health system, including:

  • ICSs and PCNs to adopt commissioning and procurement approaches that encourage collaboration and shared outcomes with the local VCSE.
  • Support the capacity of PCN leads/clinicians and VCSE organisations to meet and engage with each other.
  • Create space for all parties to understand and make a shared plan for the local health outcomes to be achieved.
  • Provide PCNs with NHS guidance setting out the value and impact of the VCSE sector.

2. The impact of community anchor organisations on the wider determinants of health

With the support of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), we worked with 20 community anchor organisations* across England to understand their impact on the wider determinants of health** in their communities.

Through a comprehensive survey and case study interviews, we discovered how community anchors support all the wider determinants. These include access to good work, income support, access to the natural environment, and education, training, and skills.

We found that their holistic, whole-person approach to support plays a vital role, allowing them to:

  • Reach a wide range of population groups
  • Impact a broad range of wider determinants
  • Improve the quality of life of their broader communities
  • Improve the quality of life of those most affected by health inequalities

Where next?

These projects have provided us with a foundation for further research into the role and value of community organisations in supporting local health. With the help of our Steering Group of Locality members, we are building on them in 2022/23 to look at the following areas:

  • Social prescribing, funding, and the value of the local VCSE
  • Community anchor organisations, prevention services, and the impact on the wider determinants of health
  • The role of community spaces in young people’s mental health and community engagement

The projects, along with those from this year and those in future years, will support our longer-term goal. We hope to encourage the health system to better support and commission community organisations to provide local health, wellbeing, and care services.

*Community anchor organisations – The most established types of community organisation, often multi-purpose, employing staff, providing services and activities, and managing community assets to tackle local challenges.

**Wider determinants of health – A diverse range of social, economic, and environmental factors which impact on people’s health.