Herts Urgent Care was set up in 2007 as a small out of hours service for local GPs but has grown rapidly to its present position of providing a wide range of healthcare services to the five Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Hertfordshire and beyond. Nowadays it trades as ‘HUC’ to reflect this wider geographic range. It is what is known as a ‘public service mutual’ and its legal structure is a society for the benefit of the community.
HUC provides four NHS 111 services, including out of hours services, as well as running an urgent treatment centre, a minor injuries unit and an extended access service to provide GP appointments to people who can’t get an appointment at their own practice out of working hours. The annual turnover is around £50 million.
HUC is operating in the open market place and competes for contracts against large national and international commercial providers. This means that being a social enterprise is very important to them – the message they want to send out about their business is that as a non-profit distributing business, their surpluses are re-invested, that providing good services to patients is at the heart of the way they operate, which is also evident in the way they collect feedback from stakeholders to ensure services are continuously improved. It is also important that they are a local organisation and are embedded in their community. Most of their staff are from the area they service, and this makes a difference and is one of their biggest selling points.
Daniela Crouch, HUC’s marketing and communications manager says that this is an important aspect of the business that she tries to get across to people.
“[Being a social enterprise] is a big selling point. We shout about it a lot. Sometimes we get enquiries from members of the public, who complain about the perceived privatisation of the NHS, but we are not here to make a profit, we’re here for the benefit of the community as a social enterprise.”
For this reason HUC has been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark. The Mark is an internationally recognised accreditation standard for social enterprises with external, independent assessment. Daniela says that lots of people don’t understand what a social enterprise is and it is hard to explain. They use the Mark on all their materials and if people know what it means it’s very powerful.
Daniela says that being a social enterprise and non-profit distributing means that “you’re not there to make money. It’s important to the staff that they are there for the patients, first and last, and that we provide great quality healthcare because decisions are made on that basis.”
“Transparency is very important to us so that people know what you do and why, that people feel respected and colleagues and patients are treated equally.”