Fit for the future

Fit for the future

How Nuffield Health is aiming to build a healthier nation working alongside the NHS.

Elective care is an important part of our offer, but ultimately we'd much rather keep people healthy and out of hospital in the first place.

Wouter Van den Brande

Chief Strategy and Development Officer, Nuffield Health

Nuffield Health

Founded in 1957, Nuffield Health is the UK’s largest healthcare charity. An integral part of the healthcare sector, its purpose is to help build a healthier nation. Its diverse services currently include 37 hospitals, over 113 fitness and wellbeing clubs, healthcare clinics and medical centres, and over 200 workplace facilities.

Nuffield Health

Nuffield Health’s holistic approach to healthcare delivery means that, for example, even its fitness centres aren’t just gyms – many also offer clinical services, such as physiotherapy, health checks, therapists, and even GP services.

We asked Wouter Van den Brande, Nuffield Health's Chief Strategy Officer, how the independent sector and NHS could work better together to improve patient outcomes.

Healthy partnership

Over the years, Nuffield Health has developed good relationships across the NHS, enabling the two organisations to collaborate effectively; although Wouter says this can sometimes be less effective at middle management level. The charity’s biggest source of NHS patients is those choosing a Nuffield Health facility through the Electronic Referral System (ERS).

“We support the NHS through elective care across our hospitals, but we could do so much more,” he says.

Wouter believes the Elective Recovery Taskforce, which has been working with the government to consider ways to reform elective care in order to better manage waiting lists and improve patient access and throughput, is an important step towards improving patient choice and developing true collaboration between the NHS and independent sector.

Fitter together

Wouter argues that the independent sector is already an inextricable part of UK healthcare and plays a vital role in supporting the NHS to deliver successful patient outcomes.

For example, Nuffield Health’s Derby Hospital delivers 15-20% of the local Trust's orthopaedic procedures. “It wouldn’t be able to deliver the current level of care to its population without the support of Derby Hospital.”

“We are fervent supporters of the NHS and the crucial role it plays. However, our ability to deliver care to NHS patients is somewhat stymied by the political turmoil within the NHS and some of the funding issues.”

Increasing awareness

Wouter believes that independent providers need to better demonstrate what they currently bring to the table and the extent to which they’re already integrated into the healthcare system to support the NHS, in order to help people fully appreciate their role.

Nuffield Health’s low-acuity, high-volume hospitals are ideal for simple procedures: “We’re focused on just a few specialities and low complexity procedures. This allows us to deliver certain procedures at vast scale. Doing more of these procedures on behalf of the NHS would reduce pressure on the waiting list, save money, and, most importantly, treat patients sooner.”

This would allow the NHS to focus on patients with complex needs who have been waiting a long time. “We’re not set up to treat that level of complexity, which is where the NHS excels.”

A longer-term view

Although there’s no easy solution, Wouter suggests that a longer funding cycle for the NHS – for example five years as opposed to the current one – would allow for better planning and funding of longer-term health provision.

Similarly, to deliver better healthcare outcomes, planning and budget discussions should ideally involve all the various stakeholders from the start, including partners in the independent sector.

With a longer funding cycle and a more collaborative approach to strategic planning, Wouter believes everyone would be better placed to focus on meeting both short-term and longer-term needs across the whole healthcare system, instead of just “putting out fires”.

“If an Integrated Care Board (ICB) involved us in its strategic planning and could provide some certainty around expected volumes for a particular commission, we’d be more able to invest in the extra capacity needed to deliver on its requirements over the longer term.”

A new approach to staffing

Wouter also believes the NHS and independent sector need to work together to alleviate staff shortages.

Greater collaboration between the two could really benefit the workforce, giving staff exposure to a wider range of healthcare settings, so there is a huge opportunity to work closer together on training and development.

Wouter also argues that there are opportunities to get more from the workforce while also enhancing careers within healthcare, suggesting that lessons can be learned from other countries.

“Canada has recently passed legislation that allows pharmacists to provide certain primary care tasks that GPs would normally do. In a similar way, our GPs or nurses could be trained to provide simple diagnostic procedures like endoscopies. This would help increase capacity and reduce waiting lists.”

Taking the strain

Nuffield Health currently reaches around 3% of the UK population but would ideally like to expand.

The more people we can interact with, the more we can help prevent illness and injury, and keep people out of hospital.

Wouter Van den Brande

Chief Strategy and Development Officer, Nuffield Health

Its Programmes for All is just one of the ways in which it is helping to widen healthcare access. Working in partnership with the NHS and others, it is responding to unmet health and wellbeing needs in local communities. For example, the charity’s intensive 12-week Joint Pain Programme has had very good outcomes, with many participants coming off the waiting lists for joint replacements.

“With our Joint Pain Programme, we have committed to providing 10,000 free places a year until 2030, but clearly there is a much greater need for this type of intervention. We know that the programme is incredibly effective, and there is a huge opportunity to scale these programmes across the country, but to do so they need to be funded significantly and we need to be having the right conversations with the NHS.”

Working with Barclays

Barclays Corporate Banking recognises the significant role that Nuffield Health plays in the healthcare sector, and the vision that it has for the future. It is pioneering new solutions to improve care pathways and patient outcomes, which will require close collaboration with its partners in the NHS Trusts, ICBs and other stakeholders. We have been a long-term funding partner for Nuffield Health and look forward to continuing to work with the management team as they drive their strategy forward.


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More in this series

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Navigating the complexities of care

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