Weekly updates and essential insight into the NHS in the South West, by Will Hazell

What now for social enterprises in the South West?

In my last edition, I discussed the decision to select Virgin Care as preferred bidder for community services in Bath and north east Somerset.

The decision will have significant ramifications for Sirona Care and Health – the social enterprise that currently delivers much of the services and now stands to lose a great deal of its income.

However, Sirona isn’t the only social enterprise in the South West feeling the squeeze.

Last month, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group and Swindon Borough Council announced that they had awarded adult community services to Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust.

A good day for the trust but not for SEQOL, the social enterprise set up in 2011 to run the services as part of the Transforming Community Services programme, when primary care trusts were forced to divest their provider functions.

The decision has been on the cards for some time – SEQOL was given notice on the contract in February. The commissioners cited a changed policy landscape following the Five Year Forward View, as well as operational and financial concerns including a “very considerable overspend” on older people care packages.

Exactly what will happen to SEQOL now is unclear. The organisation has remained tight lipped about its future.

Sirona and SEQOL are very different organisations with very different challenges, but their experiences seem to reflect a wider fragility among the region’s social enterprises.

The South West has already lost one of its enterprises: Peninsula Community Health was forced to wind itself up earlier this year after it became clear it was financially unsustainable.

One regional source told me it was always going to be “marginal” whether the South West’s social enterprises would be able to survive, because their relatively small size meant any loss of work would leave them vulnerable.

Market exit isn’t always a bad thing – in “real” business, failures, mergers and acquisitions are the way of the world.

Unfortunately, what’s different in the NHS is that new community interest companies aren’t really coming through.

With the wave of organisations created in 2011, the South West was a pioneer of the NHS social enterprise model.

In 2016, one of those organisations has already bitten the dust.

Unless there’s another big change in policy direction, one wonders how many of the class of 2011 will still be standing in another five years?

Katrina Percy questions continue

Last month Katrina Percy stepped down from her post as the chief executive of troubled Southern Health Foundation Trust – and stepped into a new role at the trust with the same salary.

HSJ suggested the trust was “very naïve” if it thought the move would put to an end questions about the leadership of the organisation.

That scepticism appears to have been vindicated. The trust has come under renewed media fire after Tim Smart, the interim chair, disclosed in a BBC interview that – to no real surprise – the new job did not previously exist, it was not advertised so others could apply, and Ms Percy was the only candidate.

Deep South

Deep South is HSJ’s email briefing on the NHS in the South West of England.

It takes an in-depth weekly look at a region which is one of the NHS’s most innovative, but also one of its most turbulent. The patch includes the cities of Bristol and Bath, through Wessex and Dorset, and all the way down the peninsular to Lizard Point.

Please get in touch with any suggestions about what you’d like to see covered and any story tips: will.hazell@emap.com