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Students may be offered gap-year role in healthcare – The Scotsman

A MAJOR overhaul in the provision of healthcare in Scotland is being urged by a leading think-tank – including charity work by gap-year students.

Reform Scotland has called for an end to a “public-sector monopoly” and wants to see the voluntary sector given a much bigger role to help achieve greater choice for patients.

It has argued that hospitals and other community health providers should become independent, not-for-profit trusts, which would be part of the voluntary sector. They would also be able to set up new bodies to provide healthcare. 

A report published today by the group after a four-month consultation on the voluntary sector found broad support for increasing the role of the voluntary sector in Scotland.

Writing in The Scotsman today, Reform Scotland director Geoff Mawdsley says diversity in the provision of public services – especially in health – is the key to delivering higher standards.

He said: “I have no problem with the public sector delivering services. However, it should not grant itself a monopoly, but instead create a level playing field in which others are also able to provide services.

“What we are calling for is an end to public-sector monopolies in the provision of public services such as healthcare and an environment that would give third sector organisations the opportunity to deliver such services.

“We know that people will often look to third-sector providers because they frequently offer more personalised, compassionate and innovative approaches.”

Reform Scotland also recommends a scheme is set up to help gap-year students – such as Prince Harry, who spent three months in Australia after completing his A-levels – and others carry out voluntary work at home rather than abroad, in a similar way to Voluntary Service Overseas projects.

The voluntary sector had an annual income of £4.1 billion in 2008, employing 130,000 paid staff – about 5 per cent of the Scottish workforce.

In addition, about 1.3 million adults act as volunteers.

But the think-tank said a Voluntary Service at Home scheme could help boost the numbers.

The report said: “This would enable gap-year students, among others, to become involved in charity work at home, similar to work they often undertake abroad.

“A Voluntary Service at Home scheme would need some sort of co-ordinating organisation, similar to the way in which Project Trust sends about 200 volunteers to 25 countries annually to undertake charity work.”

Reform Scotland has also called for voluntary sector bodies to be able to set up publicly funded independent schools, to provide an “alternative to local authority provision”.

Mr Mawdsley, one of the report’s authors, added: “We need to reach a situation where public services are provided by those organisations which best meet the needs and wishes of people and local communities.”