THET welcomes the launch of a report on overseas volunteering and partnerships from the NHS by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health.

The report, Improving health at home and abroad: How overseas volunteering from the NHS benefits the UK and the world addresses the role of NHS staff who volunteer overseas in advancing health globally and bringing new knowledge, skills and ideas back to the UK, and what can be done to facilitate this work further.

A health partnership is a relationship between a health institution in the UK and a counterpart health institution in a low or middle income country which supports Human Resources for Health development through training, and education of healthcare workers overseas by UK volunteers.  At the heart of health partnerships is the acknowledgement of the mutual benefits of working in this way.

Focus on Quality & Sharing of Good Practice.

THET has been working with institutional partnerships or ‘links’ between the UK and their developing country counterparts for over two decades.

During this time, THET has been at the forefront of efforts to capture and share the experiences of health partnerships and to facilitate the growth of this community, especially in terms of the ability of individual partnerships to draw on the experience of others in the delivery of effective health workforce development projects. There has been a marked increase in quality and impact. This has been achieved through the transfer of rigorous quality standards by UK Health professionals from the UK to international work, through peer to peer support and through provision of good practice guidance, such as tools for better management, monitoring and evaluation.

THET supports the report’s recommendation for the creation of a ‘kite-marking’ scheme to highlight the essential features of successful and effective volunteering programmes and partnerships and to accelerate the sharing and adoption of good practices.  We are currently working on identifying criteria for ‘Quality Standards within Partnerships’. This could significantly inform the ‘kite-mark’.

 

Coordination & Scale

THET recognises the potential for greater co-ordination within, and between, NHS volunteering programmes.

THET has increasingly acted as a ‘hub’ for health partnerships and, through the Health Partnership Scheme, supports scaled-up volunteering programmes such as the Ugandan Maternal and Newborn Hub and the Improving Global Health Fellows Scheme operated by the Thames Valley and Wessex Leadership Academy. These programmes are pioneering efforts to root volunteering within existing frameworks, such as the NHS Leadership or Knowledge and Skills Framework and are highlighted in the report’s ten characteristics of ‘volunteering for impact’.

THET sees potential in gradually growing a network of regional health volunteering centres and would welcome the opportunity to work with Health Education England and the Local Education and Training Boards in supporting NHS volunteers who wish to continue the scale-up of sustainable partnerships based on the principles of respect, reciprocity, mutual learning and benefits to all.

Sustaining Success

THET welcomes this report’s focus on the importance of sustaining success and the call for greater support through national policy, including an extension to the Health Partnership Scheme (HPS).

“The most effective government action to support NHS overseas work in recent years has been the Health Partnerships Scheme (HPS). The funding and expertise this has provided is having a transformative effect on the number and quality of international links between the NHS and developing countries.” APPG on Global Health (2013). Improving Health at Home and Abroad

To date, the Health Partnership Scheme has enabled some 85 health partnerships to access the financial and technical support necessary to deliver increasingly diverse and effective projects to address issues such as maternal mortality and child health, mental health, nurse education and clinical practice development.  HPS will enable over seven hundred UK healthcare workers to volunteer overseas as part of strategic and long-term organisational arrangements, designed to respond to locally identified needs.

The environment for staff wishing to volunteer abroad has improved in recent years. However, more remains to be done and barriers remain. There is a great enthusiasm and interest from health professionals in volunteering for global heath, as students, when in specialist training, through mid-career, to and beyond retirement. However, it has proved difficult to transform this willingness and appetite into large numbers of volunteers. Some of the key barriers to UK health professional engagement overseas come from a lack of integration with the recognised career path, little acknowledgement of the potential benefits of such an experience and a common requirement to take a career break or timeout.

As such, THET strongly supports Health Education England’s focus on volunteering and would like to see parity of opportunity and entitlement for overseas volunteers with military reservists. THET also welcomes the call for NHS England to support the view that programmes to improve global health are a legitimate and desirable activity for NHS organisations and looks forward to working with NHS International Health Group on revising the Framework for NHS Involvement.

THET’s vision for volunteering is for it to strengthen the UK’s contribution to developing country health systems and for an environment where effective and appropriate international volunteering is regarded as the norm, not the exception, for all UK health professionals.

 

Download the full APPG report.

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