Social Enterprises in the NHS

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a kind of company or firm.  But unlike most companies, a social enterprise isn’t meant to concentrate on making money for owners or shareholders.  In recent years a lot of social enterprises have been created in community health, replacing services that PCTs used to run themselves.

What is the “right to provide”?


Staff who work for acute, mental health, or community NHS Trusts are going to be given the “right” to make a proposal to their trust about becoming a social enterprise.  Their trust will be obliged to give the proposal due consideration.  This is what the Government calls the “right to provide”.  It doesn’t apply to staff in Foundation Trusts.


What are the risks?

Social enterprises can be very risky. Switching to a social enterprise means that you and the service you provide cease to belong to the NHS. You become an independent business. Your job security and your NHS pension could be put at risk.

At first, your new social enterprise might be awarded an NHS contract without having to compete for it.  But this protection will not last. Government guidance called Making Quality Your Business says that:

      “Where there is not an established market, you may be eligible for an uncontested    contract to deliver services. In these cases, contracts will be up to and including   2012/13. These contracts will move to Any Qualified Provider status when it is fully        introduced.” 

What this means is that your social enterprise would only be protected until March 2013.  After that, you will have to compete for NHS work like any other private contractor.  That’s what “Any Qualified Provider” is all about.  Which is why it’s a lot safer to stay in the NHS.

What can I do?

GMB believes the NHS should be publicly run, not broken into little bits.  Stay on the alert for any sneaky attempt by managers to convert your service into a social enterprise.  They may be putting proposals to your trust without you knowing about it.  You have a right to be consulted.  Government guidance says that:

      “There must be evidence of staff engagement in order for the new organisation         to be   approved . . . Trade unions should be engaged early on in discussions and planning      before decisions are made. This is a particular requirement where TUPE transfers      take place.”

Ask the people making the proposal to confirm whether the social enterprise would have to competitively bid for NHS work, either now or in the future.  Push for a staff ballot on the proposal.  GMB members can contact their local GMB rep or office for representation and advice. If you are not a GMB member, join today: