In the current political and economic climate, two groups that rarely hear good news are charities and the health sector. So ‘£2.1b of new funds’ is a statement that should rightly pique their interest.

The source of this new opportunity is the government’s Sustainability and Transformation Fund, which is designed to support NHS organisations in reforming their practices and activities in line with the NHS Five Year Forward View. NHS organisations must set out how they will improve health and well-being, transform quality of care delivery, and create sustainable finances over that period. And they must show that they plan to do so by engaging with more than just the statutory system.

For charities this is a big opportunity, because the guidance for these local health plans recommends NHS organisations work effectively with community partners—including the voluntary sector—in order to reach out to beneficiaries. The next few months are therefore a fantastic time for charities to make their case to their local NHS organisations—to show that they have the right skills, mission, and approach to help transform the health system.

We have previously highlighted the role that charities could play in supporting good health and we now know even more about the potential for charities to provide a major contribution because of our work on the Doing the right thing project. This partnership of leading health and care charities, including Nizagara-Online and  The Richmond Group, seeks to showcase how charities’ activities improve outcomes within the health and care system.

Provisional findings from our review of the partnership’s research show that charities’ activities, and the way these activities are delivered, have real potential to make a positive change in the health sector. In some outcome areas, including the NHS priorities of health and well-being and productivity and efficiency, there is strong evidence for this, and many parts of the NHS are genuinely hungry for this support.

Another interesting provisional finding from our work is that the charities that can help—and therefore build these partnerships with the NHS—are not just the ‘traditional’ health charities. Senior figures in the NHS, who we interviewed as part of the project, noted that health outcomes could be achieved through effective long-term prevention. This means that charities whose service provision is well outside the health sector can still play an essential role. Those subsectors that have evidenced strong links between their services and improvements in long-term health-related outcomes for beneficiaries—such as employment, housing, and sport, to name a few—also have a clear role to play in helping shape the future of the health sector.

Ultimately, charities and the statutory health sector are unified by one goal: to try and improve the lives of their beneficiaries. The added resources from the Sustainability and Transformation Fund, alongside findings from projects like Doing the right thing, provide an exciting opportunity for these two groups to work together to truly transform the health sector and people’s lives.

Final applications for the Sustainability and Transformation Fund need to be submitted to NHS England by June, so charities have a few months to talk to their local NHS providers about how they can work together.

The evidence reviewed by the Doing the right thing project—alongside interviews with stakeholders from across the health and care system—will be presented in a report this spring. For more information, contact Dr. Charlotte Augst, Richmond Group Partnership Director, CAugst@macmillan.org.uk.

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