Health: Out of the headlines but still on our minds

2017 began with news story after news story about our health system: from ambulance services unable to cope with demand, to the health secretary ditching the four hour A&E waiting target. For now, eyes have been drawn away by Brexit. But even Britain’s impending departure from the EU raises health questions, with concerns about the NHS’s workforce.

Meanwhile, the pressure on services remain. And ‘humanitarian crisis’ or no, charities continue to support people and promote health in communities in a myriad of ways. So what are the big health subjects on charities’ minds?

  1. As the Prime Minister has re-affirmed the government’s commitment to mental health, charities are focused on making the promises a reality in the absence of new dedicated funding. Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer is involved in a review of supporting mental health in the workplace, and existing initiatives such as the Time to Change collaboration are focused on public attitudes to mental health. Charities will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the Five Year Forward View Mental Health Taskforce’s recommendations.
  2. Health inequalities are a concern for government and charities alike, especially with news that outcomes in the UK have not improved in the last six years, and are falling behind other European countries. Health outcomes are significantly influenced by socioeconomic factors, and this means that organisations that don’t appear to be ‘health charities’ can have a profound impact on health—for example those supporting people to access employment; helping children re-engage with education; or giving advice on problem debt. At NPC we believe lots of charities underestimate their role in health, and we’ll be producing some work on this soon… watch this space!
  3. The health charities we’re talking to are increasingly obsessed with ensuring the voice of users influences the design of services—both their own services and those of the health system. And although it is difficult to change the behaviour of an institution as big and decentralised as the NHS, there are signs that it does recognise this need. NHS England contributed to funding the Realising the Value project focused on enabling people to take an active role in their healthcare. Meanwhile a new VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance has been formed to promote co-design with communities.
  4. We’re seeing more interest in how health data can be used effectively to understand what’s working and not working in health, and to improve individuals’ experience of healthcare. A recent report by the Richmond Group of health charities outlined how safe and effective use of health data can help individuals with long term conditions manage their health effectively, and ensure that their care is coordinated and responsive to their needs. Meanwhile NPC—backed by leading charities—continues to call for better access to data about health outcomes. This would enable charities and other organisations to learn what works and improve their services on the basis of high quality evidence.
  5. There’s increasing recognition that charities will have a stronger voice by working together. This was a key finding from our Untapped potential research last year: health commissioners are overwhelmed by the sheer number of requests they receive from the charity sector, making it almost impossible to prioritise and take on ideas for working differently. A new collaborative project in Somerset aims to address this through charities coming together and making a coordinated offer to the health system. It may be a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

While the health service continues to struggle, the charity sector is an important ally in keeping people healthy and supporting those who are unwell. Thinking about how the charity sector and its funders can complement and support public services—in health as well as a number of other areas—is one of the key things we’re thinking about in 2017 and beyond.