On Monday 7 January 2019, many of us were checking our inboxes and getting over the festive malaise, but NHS England had a different idea: it had just published the long-awaited NHS Long Term Plan.
Designed to set out the ambitions of the NHS over the next 10 years (and how the extra £20bn will be spent), it is a 136-page tome on all things health. It was warmly welcomed throughout the health charity community, and rightly so. It lays out some powerful ambitions for things such as improving mental health, children and young people’s health and speed of cancer diagnosis. Many of us have been involved in the development of the plan and it was no mean feat to get it out of the door and onto the front pages.
There is, however, a lack of integrated thinking in the plan. For example, there is no mention of mental health in the section on cancer. Many organisations, Clic Sargent included, have been talking for a long time about the need for mental health services for cancer patients. Such services are vital to enable cancer patients to thrive and not just survive. This silo approach does no one any favours. It just means it takes longer to sort out some of the entrenched issues in society.
As charities, it sometimes feels like we’re constantly pointing out where things might affect another area of policy, or where, if government departments worked together they could make quicker progress on things.
When I worked at Women’s Aid, most domestic abuse policy was handled by the Home Office. We took pains to point out that domestic abuse wasn’t all about the police, but it was hard to get government out of that mindset.
It often falls to the charity sector to take things out of the box they’ve been put in and into the real world. Real people’s lives don’t fit into a box. A young person with cancer needs to access cancer treatment, but also needs support to stay in education and help with the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis. It is up to us to continually point this out.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I think that highlighting the real-life experiences of those we work with is an essential part of what charities do at the moment. Government departments and other state institutions are bound by budgets, static remits and, of course, politics. Charities can be more nimble and flexible and have a critical role to play in supporting the government and others to see the full picture. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to change this silo working in the long term? Absolutely not. But in the meantime we have to play our role as "bringers together".
Clare Laxton is associate director policy and influencing, Clic Sargent