First developed in the US, the term anchor institutions refers to large, typically non-profit, public sector organisations whose long-term sustainability is tied to the wellbeing of the populations they serve. Anchors get their name because they are unlikely to relocate, given their connection to the local population, and have a significant influence on the health and wellbeing of communities.

The Health Foundation worked in partnership with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and The Democracy Collaborative to understand how NHS organisations act as anchor institutions in their local communities and can positively influence the social, economic and environmental conditions in an area to support healthy and prosperous people and communities. 

In 2019, we published a report to share the findings of the research. The report also showcases where NHS organisations are already implementing anchor practices and outlines how decision makers can maximise the contribution the NHS makes to the wider determinants of health – the social, economic and environmental conditions that shape good health.

UK Anchors Learning Network

To build on this work, we are working in partnership with NHS England and NHS Improvement to develop a UK-wide NHS Anchors Learning Network to help NHS organisations to better understand their roles as anchor institutions. The partnership supports aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan and we hope it will enable the NHS to powerfully impact the wider determinants of health and leverage its assets to mitigate health inequalities and improve population health.

The Learning Network will launch in early 2021. 

The role of anchors institutions in COVID-19 recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on our health system and the health of local communities. It has created both new opportunities and challenges for NHS organisations adopting anchor strategies. 

Between August and September 2020, the Health Foundation is holding a series of ‘Anchor and COVID-19 conversations’ with local areas across the UK to:

  • discuss what being an anchor institution means in light of COVID-19
  • share experiences and hear about emerging good practice
  • identify challenges and explore opportunities

Findings will be shared later this year.

Find out more

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Further reading


NHS Anchors Learning Network


A partnership between the Health Foundation and NHS England and NHS Improvement to develop a UK-wide...

Research report

Building healthier communities: the role of the NHS as an anchor institution

August 2019
Research report

Our new report explores the ways in which NHS organisations act as anchor institutions, and their...

Newsletter feature

Anchored in the local community: how NHS organisations can improve population health

26 March 2019
Newsletter feature

We spoke to James Goodyear about how his trust is making the most of its role as an anchor...


The role of hospitals as anchor institutions in improving population health


An interview with Ted Howard, president and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative.

Newsletter feature

The NHS as an anchor

28 March 2018
Newsletter feature

The impact the NHS has on people’s health extends well beyond its role as a provider of treatment...


How the NHS can use anchor strategies to build a healthy and sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery

22 June 2020

We look at how the NHS as an anchor institution has an essential role to play in recovering from the...

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