As a country, we’re extremely proud of the NHS. It remains one of the most admired institutions across the UK, with surveys showing that it is more popular than the army or the monarchy and that it should be a greater Governmental priority than Brexit. Indeed, so important is the NHS to our sense of identity that, much to the bemusement of some non-UK viewers, significant chunks of the London Olympics opening ceremony a few years ago were dedicated to nurses, sick children and giant hospital beds.
However, although there is increasing public focus on the NHS it is by no means the only organisation working in the health arena, with the range of relevant bodies ranging from statutory organisations such as Public Health England to small, local organisations working on specific health issues affecting their community. These organisations are faced with a number of potential challenges. Dealing with long-term health conditions takes up a significant chunk of spending and is likely to increase in the future. Serious increases in spending will be required to treat avoidable illnesses, partially caused by smoking, drinking and high obesity levels. Understanding exactly how and why certain health issues arise in certain communities and how to deal with them is often particularly complex. In contrast to this, there are positive trends that can be built upon such as the recent reduction in smoking levels, the considerably improved outcomes relating to cancer and the potential to use new technologies to drive changes in treatment or preventative approaches.
Equally important is that there has been an increasing awareness and focus in the last few years on taking a wider view of health provision. Dealing with the nation’s health requires a focus on mental health and well-being as well as physical health, prevention as well as cure and examining the links between health and other areas, such as employment, social care and education. In addition, there still exist key differences in health outcomes between people or groups due to social, geographical, biological or other factors and these health inequalities need to be challenged. This wider view of health and well-being provision and the need to focus on inequalities presents a need for new approaches and ways of working to meet these challenges.
One key element of this is looking at how the statutory and voluntary sectors work together. The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector is becoming increasingly important in terms of health provision for a number of reasons. Firstly, the range of organisations and knowledge in the sector puts it in an ideal position to take a wide view of health, look at preventative approaches and well-being, work at the intersection of health and other sectors and help remove or mitigate health inequalities. Secondly, it is huge, with over 35,000 charities, 10,000 social enterprises and many more other groups working in communities across the country. This equips the sector with the potential to provide services and assistance by reaching different communities across the country, especially those that have been historically underserved. Thirdly, VCSEs are often in a position not only to target well-known social determinants of health but also to develop innovative approaches to many of the problems facing the health sector today. Finally, they can act as a source of advice for commissioners thereby helping ensure that key health needs can be met.
As a result of the need to harness the strengths and potential inherent in the VCSE sector, the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England have developed a new VCSE Health and Wellbeing Fund, which we’ve been asked at Ecorys to evaluate. This Fund aims builds on learning from previous work such as the Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund and the Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund (which Ecorys helped manage) to help provide a continuing voice for the sector, ensure the voices of people accessing community care are heard and build evidence of sustainable, scalable solutions.
The nature and importance of this work makes the evaluation of the Fund that we at Ecorys have been asked to undertake particularly interesting. We need to talk to a range of stakeholders and undertake surveys in detail to understand exactly how the Fund is working. What different approaches are those getting funding taking to engaging with the rest of the sector? What are the key factors that help facilitate successful engagement? Where is the Fund providing the most value and why?
Our experience working in the health sector and on evaluating similar funds suggests that there is no easy way to answer these questions short of speaking to as many relevant stakeholders as possible, being willing to ask critical questions and undertake detailed analysis. Indeed, there are particular specific approaches we are going to take (such as helping develop key metrics and undertaking a Social Return on Investment) that will provide valuable data. What is essential to this process is understanding first-hand the work of each organisation that is getting funding, their particular situation and their needs. This will allow us to uncover the nuances in terms of how the Fund works at a micro-level that can provide a solid foundation for organisations in the future. This is important, not just as a means of assessing the work of this Fund, but also as way of providing wider learning that can help ensure that the health of our nation is as good as it possibly can be.
Please contact Diarmid Campbell-Jack for more information.