• Devon Doctors' CEO makes a compelling case for social enterprise model

    An article on The Guardian website’s co-operatives and mutuals hub has explored the evolution in the provision of out-of-hours healthcare over recent years
     
    Devon Doctors’ chief executive Chris Wright has been quoted at length in a Guardian article looking at the provision of out-of-hours [OOH] services by GP co-operatives and social enterprises.
     
    GP co-operatives mutate into out-of-hours social enterprises was published on the cooperatives and mutuals section of the Guardian website last Friday [September 20] and examines the issues facing organisations such as Devon Doctors in 2013.
     
    Social enterprises now account for more than 40 per cent of the OOH market, with 33 per cent from commercial firms and the NHS providing the bulk of the rest.
     
    “GP co-operatives is an old fashioned term now; it practically doesn’t exist,” explained John Horrocks, the chief executive of Urgent Health UK – the industry body for social enterprise OOH providers – who is also quoted at length in the article.
     
    “It’s not the same as it used to be, where everyone took their turn in a co-operative. It’s more of a lifestyle choice. Now, you often find GPs who specialise in OOH... typically a shift rota is available on the internet and the GP is able to sign up to whatever shifts they want to work.”
     
    “While the CCGs [clinical commissioning groups] commission care, it is the GPs who most understand the consequences of good or poor care in the out-of-hours period,” opined Chris.
     
    “Furthermore, the knowledge that no player in the company – be they director, employee or member – can benefit financially beyond a reasonable wage is vital in keeping the values of the company focused on sustainable quality care.
     
    “There is no profit to be made in out-of-hours care, the resource is very limited, so ‘for patients not profit’ is the best ethos.”
     
    Partly thanks to the negative press that has surrounded commercial OOH provision, John believes social enterprises are looked on favourably by commissioners.
     
    “The win rate for social enterprise is very good. As long as we can manage to persuade commissioners that what they want is a good quality, value-formoney service, rather than what the commercial sector tends to provide, which is a lower cost service but we would say dodgier quality… very often the commissioners are persuaded to go for social enterprise these days.”
     
    However, Chris admits to concerns that the commercial bidding process, led by providers such as Harmoni, is driving down prices too much – to the extent where it is all but impossible to provide a high standard of care.
     
    He also highlights the opportunities available to organisations, such as Devon Doctors, which are willing and able to diversify.
     
    “Some [social enterprises] are already delivering good NHS 111 services in parts of London, Essex, Hertfordshire, Great Yarmouth and Waveney,” said Chris. “Some are also delivering walk-in centres, minor injury units, A&E support, appropriate admission schemes and providing offender health and small community nursing services.
     
    “It is very early days but we believe that our social enterprise model would ensure that contracts are focused on quality care for patients rather than extracting a profit.”
     

     

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    Devon Doctors Ltd and its subsidiaries Access Health and Access Dental are social enterprises. We exist to benefit the communities we serve. We’re run by healthcare professionals, owned by GP practices, and don’t have any stakeholders. Any profits we might make are used to improve our services.

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    Registered office address: Unit 10 Manaton Court, Manaton Close, Matford, Exeter, Devon, EX2 8PF.

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