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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 March 31; 334(7595): 659.
PMCID: PMC1839215

Minister backs social enterprise model in healthcare market

Social enterprises—businesses for which the bulk of profits are reinvested in the community—will be one of the keys to transforming health and social care in the next decade, claims the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt.

Ms Hewitt was speaking at the launch of Healthy Business, a publication from the Social Enterprise Coalition, which describes nine social enterprises already operating successfully in health care. They include an out of hours GP service, a nurse run general practice, and a community led primary care centre.

The government has put increasing weight behind encouraging new providers into the health market. Last year's Our Health, Our Care, Our Say white paper on primary care identified social enterprises as an important means of raising quality and stimulating innovation.

At this week's launch, Ms Hewitt said the department would be making an extra £73m (€108m; $143m) available to social enterprises in health and social care over the next four years.

Initially this money will only be open to 26 “pathfinder” organisations that have already received start-up funds. But within “a few months” it will be opened up to other groups seeking to set up health and social care ventures.

Social enterprises—of which there are an estimated 55 000 in the United Kingdom, with a combined turnover of £27bn—offered a unique combination of public values and private sector entrepreneurialism, she said. This was allied to an advocacy role—“speaking up for those without a voice.”

She pointed to the huge challenges of an ageing population, rising public expectations, and an “epidemic” of lifestyle diseases.

“How on earth is the NHS or local government going to be able to [respond to] all of that without being able to mobilise the energies and talent of users of health and social services? That's what social enterprises can do.”

The new booklet shows how social enterprises could tackle deep rooted problems such as bureaucracy, low staff morale, and low patient satisfaction, said Social Enterprise Coalition's chief executive, Jonathan Bland.

The nine case studies include:

  • Local Care Direct, a “community mutual” out of hours service in West Yorkshire contracting with 550 GPs across 15 different primary care trusts. It is a membership run organisation, but the company's purpose is to “provide health and social care for the benefit of the community and not for the profit of its members.”
  • The Kath Locke Centre, in Manchester, which was the first primary care centre to be managed by a third sector organisation. Its aim is to offer medical care and regenerate the local area. Three quarters of its staff are recruited locally.
  • Cuckoo Lane, a small practice in Ealing, London, that was taken on by two nurses in 2005. The practice uses nurse practitioners for many appointments, allowing GPs to focus on more complicated cases. At the end of its first year it achieved the highest patient satisfaction rates in the local area.


Healthy Business, a guide to social enterprise in health and social care, is available at

See also “Open all hours,” The Week in Medicine, doi: 10.1136/bmj.39163.683785.4E.

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group