NHS Charities: An Untapped Resource

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NHS Charities: An Untapped Resource

Published 24 September 2019

NHS charities say their potential to make important contributions to patient care is underused. We look at the new initiatives hoping to change that...

There are around 250 official NHS charities that collectively raised some £466 million last year to enhance patient care. That puts them high up the health charity league table ahead of the likes of Macmillan (£253 million) and the British Heart Foundation (£170 million). Yet Ellie Orton, Chief Executive Officer at the Association of NHS Charities, now known as NHS Charities Together, says too few people, including those in the NHS, know of their existence.

She cites research, carried out in January, in which two-thirds of adults questioned said that they were aware of NHS charities, however, when those same people were asked to name them, nearly 60% named a non-NHS but health-related charity, such as the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK or Macmillan. Even more telling, the survey results from NHS staff demonstrated that only a third knew NHS charities had funded improvements in their hospital.


Orton says the NHS Long Term Plan makes it clear that trusts need to engage with the local community including charitable institutions. “One of our key priorities is for NHS charities to be seen as a key strategic partner with their trusts. NHS charities give £1 million every day to the NHS; fundraising in the sector has increased over the last 10 years by 200% from £122 million in 2010 to now over £460 million.

“This is an amazing opportunity for charities and trusts to unlock their potential and it comes with the full backing of NHS England,” says Orton. “We hope, by demonstrating how NHS charities are helping trusts implement the Long Term Plan, it will raise the profile of charities so that trusts say ‘oh yes we have one of those, together we can do more’.”

Last year the NHS 70th anniversary celebrations proved an ideal time to mobilise collectively to raise the profile of NHS charities, which arranged some 4,000 different events across the NHS and raised £250,000. This year NHS Charities Together launched the NHS Big Tea as an annual fund and awareness raiser celebrating the official birthday of the NHS on July 5th. In its first year some 100 NHS charities raised £150,000 and achieved over 350,000 twitter impressions. Celebrity supporters, including Good Morning TV's Dr Ranj Singh and Casualty actor Charles Venn, have also helped raise awareness.

So why does Orton think some trusts do more with their charities than others? "Independence has given these NHS charities increased opportunity to raise funds, invest in key areas of work to enhance patient care and experience, and to begin to measure the impact of this extra funding.”


Orton wants to see more charities measuring the impact of their work: “NHS trusts measure the impact of treatments and provision, but we have not always been good at measuring the impact of how an NHS charity grant or donation has made a difference to patients and staff. We are beginning to do more of this though, collecting qualitative data through case studies and quantitative through staff/patient surveys.

“Recently 10 NHS charities participated in a pilot joint impact measurement project. Results showed that over 90% of NHS staff said that NHS charities that invested in building improvements or new equipment had enhanced the care they give to patients.”

DAC Beachcroft Partner and charity specialist, Alistair Robertson, says many trust boards can look again at their charities to see how they could be of mutual support. “We have all seen the success of very high profile charities like Great Ormond Street’s, but charities supporting more locally-focused trusts also have a vital role to play not only in raising one-off or continued funding, but also in raising the profile of the trust and the NHS. Charities should also take every opportunity to assess the impact of their donations and make this public. There are still different governance models available for NHS charities, and the model adopted can have a big impact on the operational independence and profile of the charity. If an NHS charity hasn’t considered for a while whether its governance model is the right fit, now would be a good time to do so.”

Debbie Paterson, Policy and Technical Manager at the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), says that many NHS bodies are corporate trustees of NHS charities, which manage funds donated by patients and families: "They give a lot of very worthwhile support. Some NHS charities fund schemes would be seen as nice to have, while some are for things that are very much needed, so it’s a mixed bag.”

As registered charities, she says it is a legal requirement that they operate independently to meet their charitable purpose of supporting the NHS and NHS patients.


Paterson adds that NHS bodies are corporate trustees of funds donated by patients and families and that it is a legal requirement of charities to operate independently with the charitable purpose of supporting the NHS and NHS patients: “There is a big issue as to whether funds from charitable sources could be consolidated into capital spending. However, that could present problems in terms of hitting the Capital Departmental Expenditure Limit (CDEL).

“It’s interesting to note that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has recently investigated Tayside Health Board for using its charitable funds to retrospectively fund schemes to try to improve its financial position as that blurred the line between exchequer and charitable funds.”

Paterson notes that NHS charities with an NHS body as their corporate trustee are consolidated into the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) accounts, “so expenditure funded by them will impact on the DHSC’s performance against its expenditure limits”.

To discuss the issues raised in this article, please contact Alistair Robertson.


Alistair Robertson

Alistair Robertson

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6020

Key Contacts

Alistair Robertson

Alistair Robertson

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6020

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