What can leaders within the NHS learn from the voluntary sector?

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Part of GSK IMPACT Awards

Last night we announced the winners of this year’s GSK IMPACT Awards. The awards, funded by GlaxoSmithKline and run in partnership with The King’s Fund, reward innovative charities that are improving health and wellbeing in their communities.

What can leaders in the NHS learn from these organisations? Charities, like everyone in health and social care, are responding to a changing environment in the new NHS – many charities have been investing considerable time and energy into forging new relationships, keeping pace with changing priorities and establishing their role with the new commissioners. There is growing demand for many of their services but, as the challenging financial climate continues, there is uncertainty over funding and increased competition from other providers.

The organisations that can survive, or even thrive in this environment, are driven by inspiring leaders. As the health care landscape changes, organisations are finding that they need to lead differently, including collaborating with a range of sectors, forming multiple partnerships or even becoming part of a bidding consortium. Their leaders are adapting and are sometimes leading a group of organisations rather than just their own. Many of these organisations are driven by passionate people who strongly identify with the work that they do, and are very clear that the organisation’s priorities centre on the needs of the individual person or patient. Those that can articulate the sometimes less obvious value that third sector organisations bring to health care will fend off the competition, demonstrating how they support patients and communities, and showing the cost savings their work can bring to the public purse.

This is a challenging list for any leader, but these qualities can be seen in the winners of this year’s GSK IMPACT Awards. The winners provide an impressive range of services and initiatives. Their work includes: promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting people to better manage their health; building trust among people that traditional services can find hard to reach; working holistically to integrate care across different services; and engaging local people, patients and dedicated volunteers to shape services.

Against a general trend for reduced funding, East Lancashire Women’s Centre has doubled in size in the past year and expects to grow further. It has impressive health outcomes – its mental health services show very high recovery rates, which are partly achieved by addressing the whole persons’ needs, not just the mental health issue. They also invest considerable energy in multiple partnerships. Care Network Cambridgeshire has 130 volunteers who support elderly people after they have left hospital and whose work has been shown to prevent re-admissions. It also works with GP practices and 100 community groups that provide long-term support to patients, ensuring a seamless service. Yorkshire MESMAC provides sexual health services and works with men and boys at risk of sexual exploitation. Its testing service costs just £47 per person, in contrast to £150 to visit a NHS sexual health clinic, or over £280,000 – the lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV.

As part of winning a GSK IMPACT Award, the ten winning organisations take part in a leadership development programme which helps build on their success. For many it is the first time they have had access to leadership development and it can have a significant impact on their work.

The NHS faces the challenge of adapting to the health reforms, while making efficiency savings, working with increased competition and responding to the overarching need to improve quality and patients’ experience. Third sector leaders have a lot of experience of dealing this these types of issues. The NHS must find new ways to engage with them and learn from the leadership that they bring to their organisations and the wider health system.


Mercy Jeyasingham

Independent Grant's Assessor,
King's Fund
Comment date
20 May 2013
The organisations that are selected for the awards are truly impressive. As times get tougher for us all, and local authority and health funding is cut back the organisations that deliver outcomes that save the NHS money, treat the person holistically, and rebuild people's lives do have impressive leaders -and active users! Many are also delivering clinical services (as in the counselling provided by this year's winners). I think the NHS could learn a lot from the best of the voluntary sector -and many of these organisations have partnered with the statutory sector. In fact some of their most vocal advocates are referees from the statutory sector who work with them.

keith mitchell

golden years club in gloucester
Comment date
27 June 2013
I'm afraid this is to become increasingly academic if, as a culturally sensitive volunteer care group in an inner city, recognised as important for 25 years by Adult Services, now looses all statutory funding and is told to become a business. As a registered care provider, is the only route to funding, as a small but effective volunteer service, an excellent model of good practice, the resort is to expensive in time and skill, private funding bids. This is no longer sustainable as a perfect Primary Care service.

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