NHS charities are crucial to the nation’s health; we just need to show how

NHS charities play a vital and growing role in the NHS. But each NHS charity has a unique relationship with its partner organisation, so it can be difficult for NHS charities to measure impact. Imperial College Healthcare Charity communications manager Bevis Man explains why it is important to develop evaluation guidance specifically for NHS charities and how our Charity is helping lead the way.

One thing the recent EU referendum highlighted was the public’s passion for the NHS. The idea of having an extra £100 million to spend on the NHS every week was clearly a point that resonated with many voters, regardless of the accuracy of the claim. Investing in our healthcare services is important, but how much do the public know about the role NHS charities play in contributing to that?

There are currently more than 250 NHS charities across the UK, investing an additional £321 million into the NHS every year and managing about £2 billion in assets. This is a huge investment, so evaluating its impact and investing in this process will help guide charities like us on where to place funds in the future. It’s for this reason that ten charities, known as the Maddox Group, spearheaded by Imperial College Healthcare Charity, CW+ (the charity of Chelsea & Westminster Hospital) and the Royal Free Charity, have taken the lead on the issue. The group have put together a new set of evaluation guidelines with help from independent charity consultancy and think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), with the aim of helping fellow hospital charities to develop shared methods of measuring impact.

People do not donate to a charity if they don’t understand the difference their donation will make, so if NHS charities are fast becoming a key source of funding, raising our profile, both as individual organisations and as a collective body, is fundamental to ensuring this can continue. We’ve noticed a gradual change here at Imperial College Healthcare Charity over the past few years – patients, relatives and staff are choosing to give to their hospitals through donations, fundraising and volunteering. But there is a long way to go.

With increasingly tight NHS budgets and a period of financial uncertainty ahead of us, Trusts are now more in need of NHS charities to contribute towards major redevelopments of wards and units as well as the provision of equipment and the improvement of the environment. Our motto used to be that we provided the ‘added extras’ the NHS could not, and whilst that still stands, we’ve seen first-hand our role change in recent years, evolving into one that is integral to our Trust being able to deliver better care for patients.

In the past 12 months alone, Imperial College Healthcare Charity has committed £15 million to the Trust for a number of major developments, including improving several outpatient clinics and reconfiguring the A&E department at St Mary’s. We’re in the midst of raising £2 million to help fund the expansion of the children’s intensive care unit, awarded more funds for clinical research than ever before, taken on the management of over 300 volunteers and provided over £55,000 to patients and their families in financial hardship. We’re funding weekly creative workshops for our patients living with dementia and continue to expand our arts programme for patients, visitors and staff across five hospitals.

There’s a huge difference between raising £2 million to help expand the children’s intensive care unit and awarding a small amount of money to help cover a family’s expenses while their loved one is in hospital. Yet in terms of impact, both are important, so it’s vital that we, along with all other NHS charities, agree on consistent ways of recording and evaluating our impact.

The first step was the Maddox Group of NHS charities developing our initial evaluation guidance. The next step is inviting NHS charities across the country in the autumn to find the best ways to make the evaluation guidelines work for them. This won’t be an easy task – each NHS charity has its own set of objectives, ways they support hospitals, and current means of measuring impact. But developing and refining shared guidance helps to ensure that charities make the best use of their time and resources, which ultimately translates to more efficient, effective ways of delivering improvements that will benefit staff and patients all over the country.

We’re excited about working with other NHS charities. This is the first time we as a collective have pooled our resources in such a way, but it is important we do so. After all, being able to show someone how we’re making a difference is a lot more powerful than simply telling them we are. We have a responsibility to supporters, Trust staff and patients to show just how we’re delivering on our ambitions and objectives and finding the best ways to measure our impact is a great way to start.

Learn more by downloading the NHS Charities Evaluation Guidance.