LSCBLocal Safeguarding Children Board Northamptonshire

Embedding the Voluntary Sector into the Integrated Care System

Integrated Care Systems (ICS) will be formalised as a structure from July of 2022. Their reason for being is simple: To create a better system of health and care where the patient or service user receives more timely and efficient care, delivered seamlessly across organisations and sectors. The focus is on reducing health inequality, putting citizens, patients, and carers at the centre, and moving services ‘upstream’ to focus more on prevention. This policy shift speaks very strongly to the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector (LevPedro Consultants).

The ICS Framework emphasises the need for Health Care Systems to work with the VCSE, in all its component parts:

  • It sets out benefits of working with the sector, encouraging ICS leaders to value its knowledge and expertise and invest in grassroots groups.
  • It points to the value of local VCSEs, rather than focusing solely on the work of larger providers and refers to some of the challenges the sector faces, including the substantial resource required to engage strategically with the new structures.
  • It requires integrated care boards (ICBs) to have a formal agreement in place for engaging and embedding the VCSE sector in system-level governance by April 2022.
  • It focuses on VCSE alliances as the mechanism to develop this, and to build on what already exists, including local VCSE infrastructure (explained below).
  • It notes the importance of the role of the VCSE sector at place and neighbourhood, and the need to join these together across an ICS area, and to work with what already exists.
  • It notes the need for a coordinated system approach to social prescribing and engaging the VCSE in multi-disciplinary working via primary care networks.
  • There is brief reference to the expectation that provider collaboratives operating at ICS or supra-ICS level should continue to involve the VCSE sector, noting the innovation the sector brings to the design and delivery of services.

This framework provides the VCSE with a great opportunity but also a huge list of challenges. Ensuring that the VCSE sector is an equal partner is hampered by the sheer width and breadth of what we do, and our number. Unlike the NHS Provider Sector (which is usually a handful of large NHS Foundations Trusts) our sector has thousands of organisations and finding a role for all is going to be difficult. That’s why VIN is hosting 2 workshops on the subject – the first in Northampton on the 28th of March and the second in Kettering on the 9th of May 2022. You can find the event links here: 

The VCSE sector in all 42 ICS areas is currently being supported to develop a VCSE Alliance. This can:

  • provide a unified ‘voice’ for the sector (I would argue that this is the VCSE Assembly and would urge organisation to join).
  • manage competing interests (always difficult given the nature of the Marketplace).
  • provide a ‘front door’ to the sector for external stakeholders (again I would argue the VCSE Assembly construct for this).
  • amplify the voices of the most vulnerable and unheard (The Assembly once again).
  • provide a platform for the sector to work towards being a proactive, independent, and well organised sector, with its own agenda and strategies.
  • enable the sector to have a stronger voice and more coherent relationship with other stakeholders, such as local and devolved regional government, the corporate sector, and the bigger and more strategic grant funders (LevPedro Consultants).

The main challenge is that, in many of the ICS areas, the VCSE sector has not needed to organise at this geographic level before, and so new relationships and working arrangements are needing to be formed.

Of course, another big challenge is how the sector is resourced to create and maintain leadership and representative structures. These roles, to be done properly, require significant time commitment. If we truly want a representative and level playing field across our sector then some thought needs to be given to this, quite simply, because the more resource you have the more you can build strength from within. I think the current collaboratives which work with the ICS directly are doing an immense piece of work, but there are only a limited number of organisations from our sector within it. We need to build from this base and ensure that we organise ourselves as best as we can to maximise engagement and networking for all. 

Last updated: 22 August 2023

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