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On the Sofa...

by Linda Harris 15/02/2016

What’s your business?

Spectrum Community Health CIC is a social enterprise that delivers a range of community and offender healthcare services on behalf of the NHS, Local Authority Public Health and other partners. The organisation comprises experienced health professionals including GPs, nurses and pharmacists.

We provide primary care services in secure environments, including prisons, hospitals, youth offender institutes and immigration centres. Care services such as integrated sexual health and HIV treatments in Wakefield and Barnsley and integrated drug and alcohol drug treatments in Wakefield and North Yorkshire

What did you do before you set up the business?

I was the clinical director of integrated substance misuse services across Wakefield district and before that a practicing GP in an urban practice in Wakefield

Tell us what motivated you to spin-out of the public sector?

I became interested in mutualisation and social enterprise whilst doing a public health leadership course in 2004/5. I was hugely struck by the published evidence that associated public sector mutuals had improved business outcomes through their strong social values and better staff engagement and wondered whether or not the evidence base was directly transferable into a health arena where the beneficiaries are largely patients, their families and communities in which they live. Around the same time I was lucky enough to meet Tim Smit ( Eden Project/Lost Gardens of Helligan) and was inspired by his story and how he realised his dream to build a sustainable social enterprise at scale and the influence and benefits the enterprise brought to the local Cornish communities and subsequently worldwide – the ‘art of the possible’ as they say.

I started to seed active conversations and share articles about all sorts of social enterprise with the people I was directly working with at the time so that by the time Lord Darzi’s healthcare reforms opened the door to Right to Request to social enterprise in 2008 I had generated significant ‘buy in’ that social enterprise could improve outcomes for patients, particularly marginalised groups with which we were working and support healthcare innovation as well as the means whereby I could generate a vibrant learning organisation in which to practice healthcare.  

How would you describe the journey?

Its been intense, evolutionary, fast paced, exciting and always rewarding. There is a saying in Spectrum that no two days are ever the same.

What would be your advice to yourself now if you were starting out?

Focus on identifying and developing further what you do best for your key customers and on measuring and collating evidence of the impact you are making. Always take care of your staff and your partners and do not underestimate the impact, positive and/or negative, of the growth of your business on your infrastructure and on staff engagement - its important to invest and plan accordingly.

What is your best advice to people setting out now?

Secure a talented group of leaders who are 110% behind the vision, are passionate about the services they provide and eager to learn. Invest in understanding the market(s) you are entering/operating and have a good communications plan so that your business is always in ‘front of mind’ of your customers. Involve staff wherever possible keeping the focus on what matters to them and enabling staff to take personal responsibility and pride in improving the services they are directly involved in whether they be clinical or corporate members of the team.

Look after yourself, your staff and allow people to see how their individual contributions are making a difference – every day of every week.  

If you hadn’t done this, what might you have done?

I might have remained a clinical director of services, perhaps working in an NHS Foundation Trust, retaining my educational activities and special interests in public health and wellbeing.

How do you see the future of your business?

To continue as a specialist community healthcare provider working in multiple and complex systems of care.

To achieve consistent and significant growth thereby securing Spectrum's future without compromising on our quality standards and our social mission.

Whilst growing, continue to develop our reputation as an expert in integrated personalised healthcare, 'living our values' and employing staff who want to keep learning so they reach or exceed their potential. A business known for high levels staff engagement where staff 'buy into' a wholesale remodelling of the way we deliver frontline care empowering both parties, staff and patients to achieve what’s best for their own health and wellbeing 

What do you think the new government will mean for the mutuals sector? 

This government is definitely reforming public services significantly and the drivers - budgetary cuts, ‘lean thinking’, skills deficits driving workforce redesign, digital etc. provide an environment where mutual models with high levels of staff engagement, agility and innovative practice will succeed. However, there doesn’t seem to be much political signposting to employee ownership as a critical success factor in sustaining service excellence in these financially challenging times. I remain committed, however, to a philosophy of mutualism where staff have the opportunity to ‘own their outcomes’

Where do you see yourself in 5 years

I don’t envisage any great change for myself role wise although the company will be the judge of that.

I really do enjoy ALL aspects of the work I do, it’s a privilege to work with such committed and brilliant people and there are endless areas of interest and service developments to expend energy on and to learn about as well as challenges and issues to resolve and as they say in Spectrum – no two days are the same  so the potential to make a difference to patients, and develop oneself and others is huge... there are just not enough hours in the day!

To finish, what is your one single big message to public sector bodies looking at spinning out?

Have the courage of your convictions if you believe that by spinning out, the services you deliver will be measurably better for patients and you are confident the process and vehicle you choose will enable people working with you to flourish.

Back to stepping out now