Impact of community healthcare

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I’ve been spending the past few evenings and weekends assessing bids for this year’s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Impact awards, a programme run in partnership with the King’s Fund that awards funding to community-based healthcare charities. I’ve been on the judging panel for two years now, and feel incredibly honoured to be part of such an inspiring awards programme. I certainly get a lot more out of it than I put in.

The programme has been running for sixteen years and so far 300 charities have received nearly £4 million to continue with their life-changing work. Each winning organisation receives £25,000 to enhance their services and is also awarded funds for leadership and management training.

What’s great about Impact is that it solely focuses on smaller charities that are intrinsically community-based in their work, and acts as a platform for highlighting not only their value, but the whole sector’s in improving healthcare.

The programme showcases many examples of organisations providing innovative and impactful services, often to people whom statutory services may not reach. We are reminded of these services’ powerful ability to not only increase choice and offer personalised care for patients, but also reduce health inequalities within the communities they are based.

One of last year’s winners, Age UK Cheshire East, illustrates these points perfectly. It’s a charity based in Cheshire East and supports around 1,500 older people a week who are making the transition from hospital to long-term residential care. The service assists in the timely discharge of older people and supports them in selecting a care home that is suited to their needs.

One of my favourite aspects of the charity is its ‘Men in Sheds’ initiative, which it introduced to increase its reach to older and financially disadvantaged men. The initiative provides wood and metalworking equipment in ‘sheds’, enabling men to come together, socialise and learn more health and wellbeing. The work of the charity has resulted in direct NHS savings and untold social benefits for thousands of older people across the area.

But it remains that the community health sector is currently facing a great deal of uncertainty, as questions still remain as to the scope and opportunities that it will be afforded in the new health system. Smaller charities, for example, have built up strong partnerships with PCTs, whom they have relied on heavily for support and funding in the past. Many such organisations will now need to develop new relationships with much larger organisations, like Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health and Wellbeing Boards, and this will require new ways of working across boundaries.

Of course, effective leadership will play a critical role here, as healthcare organisations both within and outside the service orientate to each other. Leaders and organisations will need to develop much more collaborative, facilitative and engaging approaches as they work together to develop more integrated and coordinated care for patients. Leaders within commissioning will especially need to be proactive in forging relationships with a sector that clearly has a tremendous amount to offer to the new system.