To start with an understatement: there is no shortage of challenges to health and care as we enter 2022. With public services under pressure, the nation’s health reeling from the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic, the economy weakened, hikes in energy and commodity prices, and turbulence in government to name just a few, it is right that we thoroughly scrutinise our contribution.  

As a foundation we aren’t on the front line, don’t formally represent or serve members, and haven’t a direct responsibility for government policy or delivery in health or care. So how can we help? The insider’s guide in this newsletter summarises our plans, but here’s my quick tour of what we’re doing in 2022 and why. 

Boiled down we are working to three core objectives: improving health and reducing inequalities; faster improvement in care; and better policymaking.  

We make progress through various means: research and analysis, grants for new centres, large programmes and projects on the ground, building capacity through supporting fellowships and networks, and increasingly using our investment heft via our endowment. In emergencies, like the pandemic, we also give emergency donations for direct relief and are pleased to have donated £4.7m over the past 18 months. And all this while working with others to maximise impact. 

Improving health and reducing inequalities 

We want to capitalise on how the pandemic has raised awareness and understanding of health inequalities, including the close links between people’s health and wealth. Combining our voice with others, we’ll keep pressing for a cross-government strategy to improve health and reduce inequality, one which recognises the role of business and investor action to help (more on this in our recent podcast).  

Ideally the government’s forthcoming white paper on levelling up will recognise the importance of health to the prosperity of communities, particularly in areas of the UK where health has frayed the most over the last decade. But if it doesn’t, then helping to shape other aspects of policy will be important. For example, the work of the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the Secretary of State’s taskforce on health promotion, and wider policy affecting health by key government departments. Among all this we are also funding major new analysis on health inequalities in Scotland and what to do about it. 

Local government and business can also have a huge impact on health. Two of our programmes (Shaping Places for Healthier Lives and Economies for Healthier Lives) are helping local authorities reduce health inequalities. For example, in collaboration with the Local Government Association we’ve funded projects in five councils to encourage working across multiple stakeholders to improve health, in part through economic development.  

New ventures for the Foundation you will see this year include funding two collaborations: the first on public campaigns to promote action on the wider determinants of health; and the second with ShareAction to work with investor groups to increase responsible investing to improve health.  

Faster improvement in care 

This second core theme has been central to the Health Foundation’s efforts over the past decade and more, not least in demonstrating the value of quality improvement techniques. In 2022 we want to combine this with a new grant programme to help test how promising new technologies can expedite service change, particularly in the community.

This work is all designed to support the NHS’s recovery phase post-pandemic (look out for our webinar in March on NHS transformation). Insights and support from the 4,500 and growing Q community of improvers will help, as will THIS Institute’s work to develop rapid qualitative evaluation using the Thiscovery platform, and our Improvement Analytics Unit doing rapid quantitative evaluations of service changes and innovation. We will also continue to learn from last year’s four grant-funded Innovation Hubs on how innovations can spread and be adopted, building on insights in The spread challenge

The new IMPACT Centre, jointly funded by the Health Foundation and the ESRC and led by Professor Jon Glasby, will focus on getting evidence on what can improve social care into practice. And we will continue to help develop the NHS Anchors Learning Network to help the NHS play a bigger role in improving local population health. 

Better policymaking 

The third core theme will focus on using research and policy analysis to support better policymaking, both in the short and longer term. With others, we will clearly want to influence the Health and Care Bill, currently in the Lords, particularly on the health and care workforce, and social care reforms. We will also be monitoring performance of the NHS, what the public think via polling, and doing relevant international comparisons. Look out for our forthcoming webinar on the latter in February.  

We have been concerned for some time about the apparent inverse care law in primary care, and have just published our analysis on that and what needs to be done. We will of course be seeking to support the public inquiry on how the UK managed the pandemic and the key lessons to learn. And as investment always comes with reform, we will be assessing suggestions for reform with the rigour you would expect from us. 

To support longer term policymaking, our REAL Centre will be doing its core work of projecting the resources the NHS and social care system needs in future (funding and staffing in particular) relative to projections of demand. Two major reports are planned for this year. It will also publish deeper analyses on related topics throughout the year. Our aim is to prompt much better long-term planning and resilience of the health and care system. 

We are also helping to support the leaders of tomorrow on key policy and strategic issues through our continued funding of two international fellowships – the Harkness fellowship programme and the Sciana Leaders Network

A sustainable and inclusive Foundation 

We are working to promote sustainability, diversity and inclusion across all our activities, including how we invest our endowment responsibly and in ways that will bring about change. We will continue to make progress on this in 2022 and beyond.  

We’d love your feedback on all of our plans. If you aren’t able to connect with us during the year in any other way, our monthly podcast will give you much thought food, as we explore wider health and care issues with terrific guests. Explore previous episodes and subscribe here


Jennifer Dixon (@JenniferTHF) is Chief Executive of the Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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