5 things we learned from setting up a Health and Wellbeing Alliance in Milton Keynes

We are part of a group of voluntary , health and public sector representatives who first came together in 2019. We wanted to explore how the voluntary sector’s voice could be strengthened in strategic discussions about health and wellbeing services in Milton Keynes.

We were involved in IVAR’s Connecting Health Communities (then Building Health Partnerships) initiative, and, after hearing about a similar approach taken in Lancashire and South Cumbria, we formed an Alliance to create a single point of contact for the voluntary sector. 

Here, we share what we’ve learned from the experience so far, on the understanding that the Alliance is still a work in progress:

1. Triangulation not duplication

The aim of the Alliance is to create an architecture that ensures the voluntary sector is a key partner in the health and social care economy, in order to achieve better health outcomes for Milton Keynes. We are trying to triangulate resources, information and services to support the people and communities in Milton Keynes, and to link this with strategic health and wellbeing objectives.

2. Members represent collective interests

Each member of the Alliance represents their collective networks, e.g. Homelessness organisations in Milton Keynes, rather than their individual organisation. At the same time, the power of the Alliance is in the members’ mixture of on-the-ground experience and understanding of the nuanced issues, as well as the ability to step back from the detail and think strategically. Something that has really helped is having members with a strong understanding of both the health and voluntary sectors, who can help bridge the gap between them.

3. Clear values and objectives

We agreed on the importance of naming and upholding a set of shared values right from the start. This includes:

  • Taking a co-design approach
  • Voluntary orgranisations are understood and respected as professional experts
  • The Alliance acts for all parts of the voluntary sector
  • A collective effort and targeted, single voice
  • ‘Everybody should feel represented’

4. Linking in at all levels

‘We always need to start with the question, where are we [the Alliance] best placed to engage in a particular issue?’

At a local, neighbourhood level, we link with Primary Care Networks (groups of GP Practices) to help them address their priorities around community outreach and tackling health inequalities in their locality.

We are also connected at a regional and place level – with representation on the Integrated Care System Board (for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes), and a direct line of communication to the Health and Care Alliance for Milton Keynes and Health and Care Operational Board. This means we are well set up to ensure that the voices of residents are fed into commissioning processes and the voluntary sector can influence decisions around what services are commissioned and how they are provided.

5. Being agile and having the ability to respond to emerging issues

It is incumbent on us to create the conditions for continuous learning. This includes identifying areas where the Alliance can clearly add value, be willing to try new ways of working, and have honest conversations about what’s working and not working. Many of our members come with knowledge of what has been tried and tested in the past. They use this as a strength, noting what was learnt from these experiences and thinking about where initiatives could be replicated or strengthened.

With many of the health inequalities that existed in communities prior to Covid-19 having become further entrenched as a result of the pandemic, the need for a more coordinated, partnership approach to providing health and wellbeing services has never been greater. The Milton Keynes Health and Wellbeing Alliance aims to respond to this need and align itself with coinciding changes to health structures in the UK which seek to do the same.

Join the webinar

If you would like to hear more, please sign up for our lunchtime webinar on 22 March ‘Why and how Integrated Care Systems should partner with the voluntary sector to tackle health inequalities’.

We’ll be joined by people involved in health partnership working, including Sonal Mehta, Partnership Lead (VCSE) for Bedfordshire, Luton & Milton Keynes Integrated Care System, who will share the approach to setting up a Health and Wellbeing Alliance in Milton Keynes, and how they are now looking at health inequalities.

This is a co-hosted event by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research, The King’s Fund and Innovation Unit, sharing work in partnership with or funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.

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