NHS and health charities need to change the way they work together to improve Britain’s health

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Health charities, like Royal Voluntary Service, have the potential to relieve pressure on the NHS—but this potential isn’t being fully realised. It will take changes on both sides, according to new analysis conducted by think tank NPC for the Richmond Group of major health charities and other leading charities.

With the NHS under pressure, and in urgent need of support, this new report confirms that Royal Voluntary Service and some of the UK’s largest health charities have evidence of their ability to improve care and bring down costs.

The report found most evidence of interventions by charities improving patient well-being, as well as some demonstrating their ability to raise productivity and efficiency, and enhance people’s resilience. Any move to involve charities in improving and shoring-up the NHS could help healthcare chiefs realise their pledge, in the Five Year Forward View strategy, to ‘design easier ways for voluntary organisations to work alongside the NHS’.

NPC’s report, Untapped potential, analyses work at some of the UK’s largest charities, and found that charities can add value to the NHS through both effective work with patients and as independent, trusted organisations influencing the design and delivery of services in the best interests of patients.

Charities can save the NHS money

45% of the charity interventions achieved not only better health and well-being but did so with limited or no effect on costs. One project from Arthritis Research UK found cost savings and indirect savings to the community through its work on lower back pain.

Charities can bring down hospital admissions

The British Heart Foundation piloted more intensive work at home with heart failure patients. 79% of interventions did not involve any hospital admission. 63% achieved their target reduction in weight loss, fluid retention, and other symptoms. An Age UK programme piloted in Cornwall contributed to a 30% reduction in non-elective hospital admissions, and a new assessment system by MacMillan Cancer Support resulted in lower healthcare costs from its third year onwards.

Charities can prove positive outcomes for patients

The Support at Home service from the British Red Cross offers practical and emotional support to people to help build their confidence and regain independence. The data confirms increases in well-being, coping skills, and management of their daily lives.

Download a copy of Untapped Potential on the NPC's website

Read Karl Demian's blog, highlighting the untapped potential of the charitable sector

Untapped potential also argues that the NHS needs to bring charities into discussions about service design and delivery, to boost efforts towards early intervention and more person-centred care.

Untapped potential also argues that there is more that the NHS and charities can do to work better together.

It says that the health and care system needs to:

  • Only request evidence that is realistic for a project’s stage of development.
  • Enable and support good evaluation—rather than simply demanding it—through data sharing and investment in scaling effective approaches.
  • Make clear what information is required from the charity sector, and why.
  • Move away from evaluating complex system interventions in the same way as medical treatments.

And the charity sector needs to:
  • Avoid over-stating the evidence case.
  • Communicate evidence of impact and value in a way that aligns with the interests of decision-makers.
  • Collect and manage data in a way that is useful to partners.

"The NHS is in a hole right now. Officials and charities need to find new ways to work together as part of re-designing healthcare in the UK. We have the absurd situation where the NHS holds masses of data, but it remains largely inaccessible to charities who work with the same patients. This is no good for anyone, and patients lose out most of all.

"What we need now is for officials and charities to work together a bit more smartly. Charities can produce impressive outcomes, but sometimes struggle to communicate their value to commissioners, while commissioners can be deaf to what charities are trying to tell them. If they can find a way through this, there is real potential to help the NHS through its current crisis and get to a place that delivers even better care."

Dan Corry, Chief Executive of NPC

"Health charities like those in the Richmond Group and other partners on this project want to do more to support the NHS because we know this would be good for the service and good for our beneficiaries too.

"NPC’s report helpfully shines a light on the contribution we could make if we are prepared to change some of the ways we do things, and if commissioners are prepared to flex some of their approaches too. We speak only for ourselves in this report but I hope some of the findings will also be useful to other charities, including much smaller ones who clearly also have a hugely important role to play."

Tom Wright, Chief Executive of Age UK and Chair of the Richmond Group charities

"With the pressure on resources as a result of the economic climate alongside growing need, charities like us have an important role to play in assisting the NHS and supporting individuals. Provisions like our Home from Hospital services show a link between volunteer support and a decline in costly and distressing unplanned readmissions but the impact of our work goes much further than that."

Karl Demian, Director of Strategy & Development

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest volunteering charities in Britain powered by more than 35,000 volunteers who regularly provide practical help to over 100,000 older people in their homes, communities and in hospitals.

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

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