a guest blog from James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care at NHS England.

I am delighted to welcome the publication of this report by the Voluntary Voices Partnership which describes the critical role that the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) has to play in delivering personalised care, and shows what needs to happen at a local level to realise this potential.

Over the last two years the Voluntary Voices Partnership (Volunteering Matters, NAVCA and National Voices) has been working closely with the Integrated Personal Commissioning and personal health budgets programmes at NHS England to increase local knowledge and understanding of the role and contribution of VCSE organisations to personalised care, particularly their role in enabling people to access and use personal health budgets. This work has included a running series of workshops around the country which have enabled VCSE organisations to learn more about personalised care. VCSEs are working in partnership with CCGs and people with lived experience to support the scaling up of personalised care including personal health budgets.

As the report shows, the support provided by Voluntary Voices has made a big difference. VCSEs taking part reported that they now:

  • know much more about personal health budgets
  • are more confident in working with the NHS
  • are better able to include people with lived experience in the design and development of personal health budgets.

From the earliest days of personal health budgets, the VCSE has played a vital role in helping the NHS to learn from the experience of personal budgets in social care. The Integrated Personal Commissioning programme, which started in 2014, was established from the start as a partnership between the NHS, local government and the VCSE.

But why is it essential for the VCSE to be at the heart of our work? We know that personalised care requires a new relationship with people. It moves the agenda of ‘what’s the matter with you’ to ‘what matters to you’. It harnesses the power of people and their communities to enable people to have more choice and control over their lives and improve their health and wellbeing outcomes. It requires more creative and flexible use of resources.

Bridging the gap

The VCSE is well placed to bridge gaps between statutory organisations, helping people to get better information about NHS and other services, and know how to get their needs met. The VCSE is also well place to help local government and the NHS to build community capacity and peer support, making the most of the assets and knowledge available in local communities, looking for solutions that work for people and their families, and which rely less on health and care services.

We have seen some great examples from areas taking part in the Integrated Personal Commissioning and personal health budgets delivery programmes. For example the Disability Resource Centre in Dunstable has developed a comprehensive personalised model of support to help people manage their personal health budgets.

In Warrington, the NHS and the VCSE are working in partnership to improve people’s experience of end of life care.  Flexible personalised support which is enabling people to experience a good death in the place they choose.

Right across England, work supported by the VCSE has helped to stimulate the growth of micro-enterprises, individual service funds and other new forms of support, which are enabling people to lead the lives they want and filling gaps that conventional residential and home care services have struggled to meet.

Meeting health inequalities

The VCSE is also diverse, and well placed to help the public sector to meet our health inequalities. Local area coordination and social prescribing is expanding across the country, enabling the NHS and local government to harness the potential of local community groups, timebanking and informal networks.  For example, in Brighton, the VCSE has enabled people from the traveller community to gain better access to health services.

When health and care services are under pressure, it has not always been easy to argue the case for investing time and money in partnership working with the VCSE.  This report provides vital insight to some of the barriers which can get in the way. These are not just about money – the report highlights some difficulties in communication between statutory services and VCSE which can feel like they are speaking different languages. In turn the VCSE needs to get better at showing how it can contribute and making the most of the business opportunities that could come from the shift to personalised care.

Working together

The report is a really useful resource for commissioners and VCSE alike to understand each other’s priorities and work together to ensure that the VCSE can make its unique and vital contribution to personalised care locally. We are very grateful for to the local VCSE organisations and CCGs who contributed to the workshops and to the Voluntary Voices Partnership for producing this excellent resource.

To find out more about personalised care, including personal health budgets and the role of the VCSE see the personalised health and care framework. You can also contact us at england.personalisedcare@nhs.net

For more information about Volunteering Matters’ work in this area please contact Duncan Tree on 07841 495942, or email: