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Fight for 'social enterprise'

Setting up 'social enterprise groups' is being hailed as another way GPs can fight off competition from the private sector.

The influential Kings' Fund think-tank will recommend GPs set up the groups alongside practice-based commissioning consortia in a report out next month.

It will argue that by setting up social enterprises, GPs would be seen as altruistic and would also give the public 'oversight' of their commissioning decisions.

The move would also quash any public perceptions that GPs would cash in from commissioning as they did with fundholding, the King's Fund will state.

A social enterprise is a business with community objectives which reinvests any profits for the benefit of the region it serves. Members of the public often work alongside those who established the organisation and provide the services.

Some former GP co-ops, including On Call Care in Kent, Bedoc in Bedforshire and NDUC in Tyneside, have already reformed as social enterprises.

The model also operates in sectors such as city centre regeneration, recycling, transport, the environment and young people.

Dr Richard Lewis, a senior fellow in health policy for the King's Fund, said social enterprises 'suit GPs very well.'

He said: 'There's a role for practice-based commissioning to go into them and they could pay GPs to provide services. It can be seen as an altruistic

act but it also allows GPs to group together to have more clout and perhaps fight off

competition from new private sector.'

He added the King's Fund would put pressure on ministers to use social enterprises to expand capacity rather than turning straight to private firms.

He said: 'We need more providers but should be careful before we ''default'' to a private sector solution.'

Dr Mark Reynolds, medical director of On-Call Care and a GP in Maidstone, Kent, called on the Government to offer start-up cash so social enterprises can compete for in-hours services.

He said: 'They are the ideal vehicle to assist and support commissioning clusters and carry out the wishes of the cluster's clinical board.'

Dr David Colin-Thome, primary care tsar, said recently he saw a 'huge' role for social enterprise to deliver aspects of the Our Health, Our Care, Our Say White Paper.

He said: 'We will encourage innovative organisations whe-ther general practice, social enterprises or the independent sector to increase the number of services available.'

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