Charities must not be forced to trade their advocacy role for being paid to deliver services, the chief executive of NHS England said yesterday.
Speaking in London at a health and social care conference organised by the charity leaders group Acevo, Simon Stevens said he had five questions for the charities represented at the event. The first four related to how best to work with and involve charities in the health service, with Stevens saying: "We are serious about co-producing services."
His fifth question was about how to ensure charities could continue "to act as eyes and ears and advocates for change" while also being partners of the NHS. Stevens said that the sector's campaigning role should not be stifled. "We should never trade that away for participation," he said.
After Stevens's address, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, told Third Sector that he thought the NHS chief’s comments were designed to reassure charities in the wake of remarks made by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary.
In a written ministerial statement last week, Pickles said that government departments should ban charities or organisations from using public money on "activity intended to influence or attempt to influence parliament, government or political parties".
Speaking from the floor, Susie Brown, chief executive of the Yorkshire-based health and community charity Zest Health for Life, asked Stevens what political leverage the charity sector should seek from Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, and Andy Burnham, his Labour shadow, who were due to address the conference later.
Stevens said: "I think the fact that they're pitching up to talk to you proves that you've already got it."
Stevens also told the audience he felt there were no absolutes in his approach to building a better NHS, and that solutions were likely to be more nuanced or changeable than previously. "I'm increasingly sceptical of people who say ‘this is the answer, and if we all do this we'll have a nirvana’," he said.