How to get the best for the NHS from the independent sector

The independent sector’s role in supporting the NHS was the subject up for discussion at the HEALTH+CARE conference in London (25-26 June).
Jim Easton, Managing Director for Health Care at Care UK.
Jim Easton, Managing Director for Health Care at Care UK.
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Colchester - Essex - England

COLCHESTER, England - July 3, 2014 - PRLog -- Jim Easton, Care UK’s Managing Director for Health Care, offered delegates his perspective on how independent providers can help and support NHS commissioners to design and mobilise services.

The HEALTH+CARE ( conference gave 7,000 delegates the opportunity to meet with the various public and independent organisations involved in health and social care, as well as hear from expert speakers chosen to share their knowledge about commissioning, policy and the regulatory framework. Jim’s presentation took place in the integrated care theatre on the first day of the conference.

Jim joined Care UK in 2013 after more than 20 years’ as an executive in the NHS working in primary care, mental health, healthcare commissioning and policy development. Jim’s experience means that he’s ideally placed to advise how the NHS can engage with the independent sector to improve patient outcomes, add value and drive innovation.

During his presentation Jim said: “I strongly believe in the principles of a tax funded, universal healthcare system. It’s one of the fundamental pillars of our society. I also believe that the future will continue to be dominated by public sector provision but that there’s a place for change, innovation and bringing additional capacity from independent organisations such as Care UK.

“The healthcare professionals who work for us are passionate about delivering great care that’s free at the point of delivery. We’re very proud to think of ourselves as a part of the NHS family and are committed to its values and working within its framework.”

What is the independent sector good at?

Jim believes that a strength of the independent sector is delivering efficient services and that a lack of incumbency makes it essential for independent providers to focus on quality. He said: “We’re deeply committed to quality. A big difference for independent providers is that we have no incumbency and no automatic right to continue working where we do. If we don’t focus on quality, perform well and continue to impress commissioners, our contracts will disappear.”

Mobilisation and change

The ability to quickly and effectively set up services that perform well and provide high quality care is another strength of the independent sector that Jim highlighted to delegates during his 30 minute presentation: “There’s an amazing willingness to take on the challenge of mobilising a service, whether it’s setting up healthcare in a prison, or taking on the complexity of NHS 111. The mindset is to make things happen.”

Partnership and integration

Jim also explained how the ability to manage complex supply chains with multiple partners has allowed private organisations in other sectors to deliver successful services. In relation to health and social care, he said that having a sense of maturity about partnership and integration when working closely with people, who could be competitors in other areas, has resulted in the independent sector demonstrating some of the best examples of partnership and integration that he’s seen during his career.

The grit in the oyster

According to Jim, this is something that’s less prevalent now, but he explained how the independent sector can add contestability where there’s a lack of responsiveness in certain areas: “Sometimes, commissioners want to ask someone to take on a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved, to bring about a change in productivity, or to tackle a long standing issue that hasn’t properly been dealt with.”

He added that the trend now is for much more collaborative, rather than competitive, work: “There are many commissioners who want help with their elective work, or primary care colleagues seeking support in redesigning their services, rather than people who want to compete. We’re moving much more to being inside the system supporting it, rather than outside competing. That’s not to say there aren’t some occasions when you want somebody to be the grit in the oyster.”


Commenting on innovation in the sector, Jim said: “I’ve seen wonderful examples of innovation within the public sector but I think the independent sector is just a little bit faster at spotting a good idea and making it work. Some of that is likely to be related to a lack of incumbency – we have to be proactive in making things happen.”

Bringing scale

Jim also explained how the scale of organisations such as Care UK can help support localised services. He said: “Health and social care are very local and involve personal interactions between healthcare professionals and the individuals who they care for, but, they are being stretched and it can be difficult to achieve any efficiency and quality changes that may be required. One of the things the independent sector is good at is bringing scale to support things locally.”

How to engage with the independent sector

Jim’s advice on engaging with the independent sector was don’t be afraid of having conversations with people. There isn’t an expectation that a conversation has to lead to a contract and he said that providers are happy to offer advice to commissioners who are looking for external expertise.

He also recommended making contact with the NHS Partners Network ( “This is the collective organisation for engaging with our sector. In a neutral way it can steer you to the right people to have a conversation with,” said Jim.

Myth busting

During his presentation, Jim explained that many of the myths about the independent sector simply aren’t true, especially those that claim it has a hidden agenda to take over the NHS.

He said: “There’s an understandable but misplaced fear about the independent sector and its role. We want to work in partnership with the NHS in the long-term and I believe there’s a genuine role for organisations such as Care UK in helping, supporting and driving change.

“We can bring some external expertise but you know more about your local services and what support they might need. We value good and effective working relationships that result in joint success and improvements for patients.”

Delegate feedback

Finally, Jim asked delegates four questions about their opinions on working with the independent sector. The results were:

40 per cent would be interested in working with the independent sector if it helped them to deliver quality services for patients.
30 per cent would be interested in working with the independent sector to provide community services.
38 per cent haven’t worked with the independent sector because they’re unsure where it would best add value.
80 per cent believe that in 10 years time there’s likely to be a much greater use of the independent sector.

A commitment to great care

Care UK provides a range of healthcare services to NHS patients as well as social care for older people, those with mental health conditions and people with learning disabilities in both residential and community based settings.

Thomas Cook
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