Influencing the development of any significant piece of policy or strategic guidance as a third sector organisation is never easy, no matter how well-respected you are. But it’s an important aspiration for an organisation seeking to improve health and health care at a national system level, and a key part of our strategic approach.
There are many tactics that can be used to influence the development of policy – from securing media coverage in order to influence public debate and understanding, to meetings with key individuals to share evidence and make the case for change.
When I took up my current post at the beginning of the year, I became quickly made aware of the work colleagues had been doing across the Foundation to provide evidence and analysis to NHS England to support development of the NHS Long Term Plan. This included participation on established working groups, such as the Workforce Steering Group, and providing briefings through the consultation process.
Then within days of taking up my new role, I suddenly found myself sitting opposite the Prime Minister Theresa May. It could have been terrifying, but lucky for me I wasn’t alone. We were at a press conference of nearly 100 people hosted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Everyone, including all the national health journalists and many political ones, hung on to every word from both the PM and then Simon Stevens as they launched the NHS Long Term Plan and confirmed its key initiatives.
Our spokespeople welcomed the Plan as an ambitious yet pragmatic way forward for the NHS. However, we also warned that making the commitments a reality would be tough in light of growing patient demand, staffing shortages and continued cuts to other parts of the health and care system.
More pleasing than our media coverage was seeing the influence our efforts had on the Plan itself. There are many references to the Health Foundation in the Plan - these are the three that particularly stood out for me.
Improving cancer services
As well as reproducing charts and data from our cancer report Unfinished Business, it was positive to see how the recommendations of our report were echoed in the Plan. For example, the expansion of lung screening, the roll-out of Rapid Diagnostic Centres, the need for more diagnostic equipment, including CT and MRI scanners, were all set out as priorities in the Plan as they had been in our report. The fact that investment in much of the required equipment is dependent upon a future settlement for capital spending, however, risks leaving this particular ambition unfulfilled.
Multimorbidity and integrated care
A quarter of adults live with two or more long term conditions. This and other points from our work to understand the health care needs of people living with multiple conditions were referenced in the Plan. The Plan sets out ways in which the NHS will better serve the growing numbers of people with two or more conditions, including through better training for doctors in managing comorbidities and in the rollout of more integrated community care.
An evaluation conducted by the Improvement Analytics Unit of an initiative to improve care in care homes in Nottinghamshire was cited in the Plan in support of the roll out of the enhanced care in care homes model. This approach aims to benefit people living in care homes through more joined up care – including through having regular visits from a consistent named GP and additional training for care home staff.
Partnering with the NHS to drive change
Also referenced in the Plan is the fact that we are partnering with the NHS to deliver key improvement initiatives. This includes working with the NHS to promote the spread of improvement across the country through building improvement capability. And in developing the NHS as an anchor institution, which means making the most of its assets and resources to contribute to local areas in many ways beyond providing health care. The plan also recognises that we are working with the Royal College of GPs and NICE to support the spread of quality improvement through reforms to the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QoF).
These are but some examples of how our research, analysis and improvement programmes have contributed to the NHS Long Term Plan.
Having worked in PR and communications for many years, it's important for me to see impact in terms of driving change and improvement for patients, not just about the headlines. I’m hopeful our contribution to the NHS Long Term Plan is helping to achieve just that.
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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