The NHS Five Year Forward View conducted by Simon Stevens is music to the ears of many—but for now it’s the mood music rather than the full orchestra.

Stevens’ paper proposes ‘a radical upgrade in prevention and public health.’ It envisions a health service that ‘empowers patients to take much more control over their own care and treatment’, one that breaks down the divisions ‘between family doctors and hospitals, between physical and mental health, between health and social care, between prevention and treatment’ and one that creates ‘stronger partnerships with charitable and voluntary sector organisations’. So far, so good. Now the challenge is to build on the sentiments of the 40-page review and ensure something practical comes out of it.

Our paper, Supporting good health, puts flesh on the bones of the priorities that Stevens has identified. We think there is already a strong case for creating stronger partnerships between the NHS and the charity sector to achieve this vision, but there needs to be a concerted effort from both sides to make this happen. In particular, more thinking is needed on: what that partnership looks like, where the charity sector can make its greatest contribution, and where energies need to be focused to clear away the barriers.

Our paper sets out seven areas where charities can boost the quality of UK health services, summarised here under the following three headings:

  • Improving patient representation and reducing health inequalities: charities have an in-depth understanding of their beneficiaries, as well as interacting with academics, commissioners, politicians and the wider public. From this position they can create a louder voice for groups that aren’t getting the high-quality care they’re entitled to and help patients to navigate the healthcare maze.
  • Boosting prevention and early intervention: working as they do outside hospitals and GP surgeries, charities educate at-risk groups about healthy living, support people to get help early and to manage existing conditions to stop them getting any worse. Meanwhile a great number of charities work indirectly to rectify the causes of poor health—from homelessness charities to those campaigning for a living wage.
  • Designing and delivering services: charities draw on the time and energy of armies of volunteers, they train dedicated teams of expert staff, and channel large amounts of donations into the delivery of health-related services. At the same time, they can inform service design through cutting-edge research and insights from up-close interaction with parents, families and their carers.

In each of these areas there will be some questions to work through from all sides. Can, and should, health charities have a single voice? What data can be used to inform the case for charities’ preventative activities? How are new commissioning arrangements affecting charity service providers? Where is  the boundary between complementing state services and subsidising them?

What we do know, is that realising Stevens’ vision—and doing so efficiently—requires us to define and strengthen the contribution that charities make to the nation’s health, and develop its partnership with the NHS. To start with we need to make sure we’re singing from the same hymn sheet.

  • ‘Supporting good health’ is a call for views. We’ve set out a daunting list of challenges and will be working with charities and key decision makers in the public sector to work out the priorities for action. We welcome any feedback and would be interested in hearing what you think about the ideas and priorities we have outlined. Get in touch with david.bull@thinknpc.org, tweet us @NPCthinks, or leave a comment here.

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