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The positive contribution made by mutuals to growth and healthcare

23rd January 2015 

As a long-standing mutual in the health sector, benenden health supports the view of the recent Hunt Review that mutuals can be an essential element in delivering growth – due to their work in promoting the interests of the widest possible range of people, without discrimination.

Benenden health has long insisted that future government work on mutuals should look at the diversity of existing mutual models, with a view to taking the various needs of mutuals into account.

Benenden has taken stock of an independent report The Hunt Review written by Peter Hunt, Chief Executive of Mutuo – a consultancy advocating the role of mutuals in society – and commissioned by Ed Miliband MP and Ed Balls MP. As a mutual with nearly 900,000 members, benenden is an example of a mutual delivering growth, with the launch of two products in 2014 and the acquisition of a broker company. The role mutuals can play – one based on solidarity and non-discrimination – is particularly essential in the healthcare sector in a time of current difficulties of the health service, as mutuals can help to take the pressure off the NHS.

Benenden endorses the need to find an encompassing definition of mutuals and their values, in order to shed further light on what mutuals are. The report shows the particular strength of the mutual model with an income of £31 billion in the United Kingdom, in the healthcare sector only. Behind this figure, a wide spectrum of various types of mutuals exists – some like benenden are based on the member-based model. Through this particular member-ownership model, mutuals like benenden place member needs at the core – rather than stakeholders. Other mutuals in the health sector like NHS Foundation trusts rely on an employee-owned model. Future work on mutuals should take this diversity of existing structures further into account.

A report published last year by ResPublica stated that “mutualism is naturally based upon inclusive and democratic models. But at the same time, mutual organisations operate in a competitive environment which brings benefits to patients through improvements in choice and quality”. The report concluded that mutuals would represent a balanced solution between public and private models and should play a much needed integrator role to help deliver ‘whole-person care’.

At policy level, attention needs to be placed on a better representation of mutuals reflected by clear high-level government responsibilities and a strong agenda for mutuals. The British Government could also work positively with European partners to establish best practice regulation in the sector at European level. The adoption of a ‘European Mutual Statute’ would facilitate the definition and recognition of mutuals in all member states (read more about our position on the EU Mutual Statute).

A debate on regulation of mutuals also needs to take place within the sector so that a clear consensus is established about the issues where new legislation is needed – mutuals need to keep a necessary margin of manoeuvre to respect their democratic structures.

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