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Actions to support partnership

Addressing barriers to working with the VCSE sector in integrated care systems

This report provides an overview of the key actions required to tackle barriers and challenges to better partnership working between integrated care systems (ICS) and the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. It identifies ways of working that can help mitigate barriers and facilitate solutions, and systemic actions that can help embed and spread good practice.

This independent report was commissioned by the NHS England Voluntary Partnerships Team.

The report is supported by a resource, A framework for addressing practical barriers to integration of VCSE sector organisations (NHS England 2023). This resource includes examples of approaches that areas have adopted to address practical barriers and detailed case examples drawn from different ICSs.

Key findings

  • Integrated care systems (ICSs) form the basis of a national vision for planning, developing and leading a strategic approach to addressing wider health, public health and social care needs of local populations. Key to achieving this is that ICSs work with the organisations that contribute to those aims, and legislation makes it a requirement to develop greater collaboration with all system partners.

  • The voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector is an integral part of local health and care systems. VCSE organisations deliver key services that support the health and wellbeing of the population. In addition, they contribute vital insight and intelligence on the needs of the people and communities they engage with and are frequently a route to engaging with communities themselves.

  • Our research explored three key areas where barriers and challenges impact on partnership working between the VCSE and statutory sector. They are:

    • commissioning, service design, and delivery

    • sharing data, intelligence and insight

    • funding and sustainable investment.

  • We identify a range of different actions that leaders in ICSs and statutory and VCSE sector organisations can take to start to engage with addressing each barrier. In addition, we identify actions that can support leaders to work across the scale and diversity of the VCSE sector.

  • Common to many of the actions and approaches to addressing barriers are ways of working that facilitate more equal partnership. Examples include involving the VCSE sector early in planning and decision-making, building an understanding of the sector, and approaches such as co-design and co-production.

  • Leaders in ICSs and the wider VCSE sector can also take action at a more strategic level to support embedding the VCSE sector as an integral part of an ICS. Examples include developing a common vision for the VCSE sector and having a dedicated lead for the VCSE sector within an ICS.

  • National guidance for ICSs outlines initial steps for embedding the VCSE sector. However, working to address the barriers and challenges to greater integration is an iterative process, takes time and often starts from the ground up. There is no ideal starting point so organisations across an ICS should seek to make those links in ways that are meaningful, testing and trying approaches that enable progress.

  • While the actions typically reflect localised or bottom-up approaches on which integration is being built, we also identify actions that NHS England, other national bodies and funders can take. These can help mediate some of the barriers and challenges that influence integration and facilitate approaches to addressing others.