There have been just three expressions of interest to set up social enterprises under the Department of Health’s “right to provide” scheme, none of which have been approved.

However, HSJ has learned that more applications are being prepared, involving a deanery, hospital pharmacists and non-clinical services, such as information management.

Under the initiative, launched in March, NHS employees can set up independent social enterprises to deliver any NHS service. The programme follows the “right to request” initiative, which focused on community provisions. It is part of the government’s Big Society programme.

The deadline for expressions of interest is 31 December. Strategic health authorities must be notified whenever these are submitted. By 31 August, they were aware of just three examples.

In the South East Coast region, Kent Community Healthcare’s dental services submitted an unsuccessful expression of interest in July. The bid is expected to be re-submitted later this year.

In the South Central region, Oxfordshire Learning Disability Trust turned down a proposal from staff to provide community services in Buckinghamshire, citing a lack of detail. Another submission from the trust’s social care team was withdrawn.

Social Enterprise UK head of policy Ceri Jones told HSJ it was too early to judge whether or not the right to provide was popular. However, she said the scheme lacked the momentum of the earlier initiative, under which staff knew they would be transferred to new employers under the Transforming Community Services programme. “That created a catalyst for some to set up social enterprises,” she said.

Ms Jones said the right to request initiative guaranteed contract lengths of three to five years, whereas the minimum for the provider scheme could be as short as one year, meaning staff had less security, which discourages them.

Other applications are now being prepared across England, including at an East Midlands deanery and by pharmacy staff at two hospital trusts.

HSJ has learned of an information management and IT team and business support unit that are currently preparing expressions of interest in setting up social enterprises.

However, the DH may not allow them to do so, since the scheme was originally intended for clinical teams who want to run their own services.