I had to tackle 'misunderstandings' around NHS charities, says umbrella body boss

07 Apr 2021 News

Ellie Orton, chief executive

NHS Charities Together

NHS charities are the “sleeping giants” of the voluntary sector, according to the chief executive of their umbrella body.

Ellie Orton, the chief executive of NHS Charities Together, said that it was necessary to tackle myths about how charities complemented public spending on healthcare, and had even sought Charity Commission guidance about how donations to NHS charities could be spent.

Orton was interviewed for the April issue of Charity Finance, which is published by Civil Society Media.

Rapid growth

NHS Charities Together had an income of around £250,000 a year and two members of staff when Orton joined in 2018, but grew rapidly after fundraiser Captain Tom Moore inspired more than £30m in donations.

Orton said that, until she applied to become chief executive, “I had never heard of an NHS charity in my life. 

“I had no clue that the NHS had its own official charities or that, if you wanted to, you could give charitably to the NHS.” 

She added that NHS charities “would describe themselves as a sleeping giant. Nobody had heard of them”.

NHS charities and government funding

Orton also said that it was possible public support for NHS charities had been impacted by the belief that the government alone should fund public healthcare.

She said: “There is this misunderstanding that the charity funds are just replacing government funding. But all of our members are really robust in their granting policies. [They know] that the funds have to demonstrate that they are there in addition to statutory funds.”

Grants by NHS charities do not go directly on patient care but are typically spent on capital projects and new equipment, or care packages for healthcare staff and volunteers.

Orton said: “Legally, NHS charities have to demonstrate patient benefits, and I felt that had become confused in a couple of ways.”

She explained that she approached the Charity Commission for clarity on whether expenditure on staff and infrastructure would meet NHS charity objectives, and was told: “If you were supporting the staff, then that is going to have an impact on the patient.”

Healthcare 'does not operate in a silo'

Orton added that NHS charities “could be this real bridge between the voluntary sector and the NHS.

“The NHS does rely on the voluntary sector to be able to support and help people leave hospital quickly and safely [and] to be able to stay out of hospital in the first place. 

“It doesn’t operate in a silo.”

The full interview is published in the April issue of Charity Finance magazine. Ellie Orton will also be speaking at the Civil Society Spring Summit later this month. The full programme and further details are on the booking page.  

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