Delivering for community services: the Community Network story so far | Andrew Ridley

Today I am pleased to launch Delivering for community services, an update on the impact the Community Network has had since we launched, and our plans for the future, writes Andrew Ridley, chief executive of Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and Chair of the Community Network. I am proud of what we have achieved so far with the support of our co-hosts the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers.

What is the Community Network?

The Community Network is the national voice for NHS community services in England. Established in May 2018, we bring together NHS and not-for-profit organisations providing NHS community health services. We work to understand the range of challenges and perspectives facing community services providers. Our aims are to:

• be a strong and unified national voice for community services

• be the go-to commentator and point of contact for the issues that matter for community services

• promote the role of community services within the NHS Long Term Plan and integrated health and care systems

• influence national policy and debate about the role of community services in system transformation and support the delivery of high quality community services for patients and communities

• ensure the full range of community service providers feel they equally own and are part of the debate on primary care, population health and prevention, and social care.

Raising the profile of community services

Since the Network began we have worked hard to establish our profile, using a range of different media. We have represented our members in key debates – from the NHS Long Term Plan and Primary Care Networks to funding, pensions, and workforce issues.

But our role is about more than providing a voice for community services. Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving policy environment, we support our members by providing opportunities to come together with other leaders and share their learning. We have held four network events, with speakers from the national bodies and stakeholder organisations. Our briefing Primary care networks: a quiet revolution aims to prepare community health services providers to engage as effectively as possible with these new entities.

Influencing on behalf of community services

So far, we have had real success in influencing on behalf of our members and the patients and service users they care for. We worked closely with NHS England and Improvement to ensure that the NHS Long Term Plan recognised community services as a central pillar of the NHS. Our first chair (and my predecessor) Matthew Winn was then invited to take up a new national director position within NHS England leading  the plan’s Ageing Well programme, the first time community services have been central within a dedicated national director role in such a way. We welcome Matthew’s appointment, which shows how crucial the needs and potential of the sector are to achieving the plan’s ambitions.

On funding, we have pressed for a level playing field for providers of community services. As a result of our efforts, the national bodies accepted that agenda for change pay uplifts for posts providing local authority funded NHS services would be centrally funded in 2019/20. We are still pushing for clarity on what the recently announced public health grant uplift will mean for providers in the future.

With the plan’s commitment to community health crisis response within two hours of referral, and reablement care within two days of referral, the need to collect and analyse meaningful data about the sector will carry on growing. We know that high quality data can help us demonstrate the true contribution of community services - and we will work to ensure that data is used effectively and usefully for providers.

The future is still out there

I write this at a time of great opportunity for community health services. As the Long Term Plan moves towards implementation, we will continue to promote increased understanding of the role our members play and the challenges they face, pushing for equitable funding and procurement processes, and continuing our focus on workforce and data. We will work hard to influence any NHS bill that seeks to reduce the burden of retendering that falls disproportionately on community services. This burden threatens staff morale as well as financial sustainability. 

We will also support members as they take up their roles in integrated health and care arrangements - including Primary Care Networks (PCNs). NHS England and Improvement have commissioned the Network, together with partners, to deliver a Neighbourhood Integration Project that will support the delivery of neighbourhood level service integration. Its reference group draws on membership from across the sector including representatives of community services, ambulance services, primary care and social care.

As community services strive to implement the ambitions of the Long term plan, the support the network can offer its members is likely to grow ever more important. As one participant at a Community Network event told us:

“There is a huge opportunity here. We need to hold our nerve and use this platform to create a renaissance in community services”

 I look forward to helping community service providers fulfil their potential and take up their rightful places as key partners in the health and care system.

Andrew Ridley is chief executive of Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and Chair of the Community Network, which is supported by the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @CLCHAndrew.

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