The Department of Health is to allow NHS charities to operate away from NHS legislation by setting up new charities and transferring their assets and activities to the new entities.
The DoH yesterday published its response to a public consultation on NHS charities, which says it will develop guidance for charities and NHS bodies and a template memorandum of understanding that could be agreed between any such newly established charity and NHS bodies.
There are about 280 NHS charities, which are bound to NHS bodies and governed by both charity law and NHS legislation.
The DoH document, Review of the Regulation and Governance of NHS Charities, summarises the 62 responses to a public consultation that closed on 31 January 2013. Thirty of the responses were from charities, 22 from NHS providers.
The consultation document proposed that NHS trust charities could establish these new independent charities and existing charities could transfer their assets into them.
This would give them greater freedom and allow them to operate more flexibly – they could, for example appoint independent trustees – while retaining the relationship with NHS bodies, the DoH said.
More than three-quarters of respondents to the consultation said they supported the proposal.
Some of those that were against said they did not want to change because their existing model was fundamental to their operations, and some were concerned about the potentially high administration costs and complexity. Some respondents said these costs should be met by the DoH.
Earl Howe, a minister at the DoH, said the proposals would allow NHS charities "to further develop the support they give to patients and enhance the opportunities they have for generating future income. I am convinced that this will deliver a more dynamic health charities sector and even better support to patients."
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said it welcomed the plans. "Independence is a fundamental principle of charity law, and we are supportive of NHS charities having the option of converting to charities independent of their linked NHS Trust," she said.
According to the Association of NHS Charities, which will assist with creating the new guidance, the total annual income of NHS charities exceeds £350m and they hold a combined total of nearly £2.2bn in assets.