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What role should charities play in supporting public services?

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Should the task of improving MS services be solely the responsibility of the NHS? Amy Bowen, Director of Service Development at the MS Trust, explains why we believe it’s vital for the MS Trust to work in partnership with MS teams to ensure people living with MS receive the best possible care

Amy BowenWhat should charities do? A big question, I realise, but I have been reflecting a lot recently on the purpose of charities and what is often a mismatch between what the public think and what many of us actually do.

Of course, every charity aims to improve the lives of their beneficiaries, that is, the people the charity is there to serve. There are many ways of doing this, though. Providing direct services is one very visible and easy-to-understand way of making a difference. Running centres, providing information, running information/help/advice lines, providing equipment or grants. These are all important and familiar ways that charities work to achieve their mission.

Influencing public services

But what about the less immediate and obvious ways? Many charities, the MS Trust included, also work in what might seem like an indirect way to make a difference, by trying to influence the other services that people rely on. For some charities that might be by applying pressure on politicians and those working at a national level to make changes to systems and legislation.

For us at the MS Trust, it’s all about trying to make MS healthcare services the very best they can possibly be for everyone with MS, wherever they live in the UK, and whatever stage of their condition. We believe that people have a much greater chance to live well with their MS if they have excellent services provided by knowledgeable health professionals who are continually striving to improve.

Public purse or private donations?

Seems fair enough: almost uncontroversial. But actually, it is proving to be more complicated than that. Many people think that, however admirable this cause, in the end it should be the responsibility of the NHS itself to provide the right services, train the health professionals and drive up standards. That is something that should be funded from the public purse, not from the donations of individuals or other funders.

I suppose in the ideal world that might be true, though of course the NHS has loads of conditions to think about and many competing priorities to balance. They are under no obligation to keep people with MS at their forefront of their thinking, any more than another condition.

Helping to make the right things happen

The hard truth, though, is that the NHS barely has the resources to provide the basics that we all need and really isn’t able to put the focus or the money toward MS services that they require. They need help, support, investment and commitment from a charity like the MS Trust to make sure everyone with MS gets the best possible care.

So, that’s why we do it. We aren’t letting the NHS off the hook from doing the right thing. We are working constructively alongside commissioners, providers and the MS health professionals to help them to help make the right things happen. We help them to train MS specialists because the NHS doesn’t have the resources to fund a national training programme. We help them collect evidence about MS services because they haven’t got the resources to focus on, and invest in, bespoke evaluation of every condition. We help improve services because we have the knowledge and experience of how MS services work all across the UK, and because we know and work alongside the MS specialist community. We know how dedicated MS health professionals are and how determined they are to lead the world in MS care. They matter to us because they matter to people with MS.

How you make a difference

Anyone who gives to a charity needs to be sure that the work it does is genuinely needed and will make a difference. We know what it means when you support us, and we take your donations as a vote of confidence in our work. We are grateful beyond words to all our supporters. With your help we will continue to work to make NHS services better for people with MS. It’s work that is needed, and the need is only likely to grow as times get tighter for the NHS. We will continue to focus on this important area and hope you will join us in making sure everyone with MS gets the best possible care.