NHS uptake of social value 'very low'

Only 13% of NHS commissioning groups are “highly committed” to incorporating social value into their procurement decisions.

Research by National Voices and Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) found 43% of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) either had no policy on the Social Value Act or were not aware of one.

The report warned that the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires commissioners to consider broad social, economic and environmental benefits to their area when making commissioning decisions.

The authors of the study submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to 209 CCGs in England and received responses from 191, a response rate of 91%.

Only 13% demonstrated what the authors defined as “highly committed, evidenced and active” use of the Act.

The same proportion (13%) of sustainability and transformation plans mentioned social value. 

And even the most committed CCGs failed to weight procurement to favour social value, the authors concluded.

The Act was a response to the risk of competitive tendering focusing solely on cost at the expense of other forms of value, the report said.

The legislation aims to encourage the public sector to commission providers who are smaller, community-based, engaged in social enterprise or not-for-profit activities.

Don Redding, director of policy at National Voices and joint author of the report, said: “The NHS needs a serious review of how it supports commissioners to have the knowledge, confidence and skills to adopt social value principles and approaches.”

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of SEUK, said: “This is the first research that confirms what we knew anecdotally: that outside of a small number of encouraging examples, the healthcare system's uptake and application of the Social Value Act is currently very low.

“In this way, clinical commissioning groups are lagging behind local authorities and housing associations in seizing the opportunity that the Act provides.”

The report called on the healthcare system to tap into “the reach and knowledge of the social sector, to join up across services and agencies, and to maximise the value from each pound spent”.

It urged NHS England, the Department of Health and Public Health England to give clearer guidance and set an example by demonstrating social value principles in their own commissioning.

And it also called for social value to be built into NHS England’s Right Care programme, which assists CCGs with commissioning, and for the voluntary sector and NHS organisations to work more closely together to deliver greater social value.

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