Purpose of this document

This publication aims to help voluntary or public sector leaders build successful, sustainable and effective partnerships between public sector organisations and the voluntary sector.

NHS England and NHS Improvement commissioned NCVO to act as a learning partner on their voluntary community and social enterprise (VCSE) accelerator programme for six months in 2019–20. This involved the provision of funding and other resources to nine emerging integrated care systems (ICS) to help them to improve the role of the voluntary sector in the design and transformation of health and social care services.

This document summarises the findings of this work and highlights:

  • the essential components for success
  • models of voluntary sector partnership working
  • challenges and ways to overcome them.

Each section provides links to examples, case studies and resources which can be used.

While this publication focuses specifically of the role of voluntary organisations in the new integrated care systems, we firmly believe that the components of success and the challenges are universal. The learning can therefore be applied to any area of public service delivery.

Jargon busting

What the words and acronyms mean

  • Sustainability and transformation partnership (STP): A partnership of commissioners and providers in an area working together to strategically plan health and social care delivery and integration.
  • Integrated care system (ICS): A constituted entity that will replace STPs in all areas of England by 2021.
  • System: The partnership operating at the geographical level of the STP/ICS.
  • Place: Local borough or district level.
  • Neighbourhood: The smallest and most local area that services are organised at.
  • Primary care network (PCN): Collaboration of GP practices covering 30,000-50,000 people working towards integrated primary and community health services.


The VCSE Accelerator Programme

  • The NHS long-term plan set the ambition that every part of England should be an integrated care system by 2021.
  • The introduction of integrated care systems requires new ways of working.
  • There is evidence that shows it has been difficult for voluntary organisations and social enterprises to engage with systems, and systems have reported it’s difficult to engage with the sector or they don’t know how to.
  • The VCSE Accelerator Programme is helping to address this by testing and developing models of voluntary sector and social enterprise leadership groups/alliances in integrated care systems.
  • The creation of these alliances encourages the sector to work in a coordinated way and provide the NHS with a single route of contact and engagement with the sector and communities.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 14 September 2022