Blog: What is an NHS Charity anyway?

Blog: What is an NHS Charity anyway?
August 31, 2020

Through feats of inspiring fundraising and an overwhemling outpouring of public support, NHS charities across the country have been pushed into the spotlight. An unprecedented movement has seen awareness and prominence surge, and record-breaking fundraising become the new normal. In this blog, our Head of Fundraising, Nicola Sinclair, helps answer the question people up and down the country have asked themselves ‘what are NHS charities and what do they do’.


I have to admit before I started my role as Head of Fundraising for Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation, I didn’t know that NHS Charities existed beyond Great Ormond Street Hospital.

This has changed quite significantly since the outbreak of Coronavirus. BC (Before Coronavirus!), it was difficult to explain what an NHS Charity was, fast forward to today and I start with, OK, so you know Colonel Tom….

Despite the growth in awareness of NHS Charities there is still confusion about whether the NHS itself is a charity. It isn’t. The NHS receives a budget from the government to provide medical and health care services to the UK population and cannot receive charitable donations. So, what happens then when you raise money for your local NHS, leave a gift in your will or donate money to a hospital whose staff cared for you? Well that’s where NHS charities come in. We are the legal way for the NHS to raise, manage and distribute charitable funds, helping them to go above and beyond, support staff and patient wellbeing and provide enhancements that help staff deliver the best care possible.

Collectively NHS Charities provide £1m a day to support staff and patients across the UK. We work with our NHS colleagues and other partners to look at ways to make the hospital environment a more welcoming place to be, make a patient’s stay more comfortable, fund additional equipment or technology that can help speed up recovery but is not core, support the emotional and physical wellbeing of staff, and fund research that could have the potential to transform the way that care is delivered.  Our donors help to change and save lives.

This all existed before COVID-19 and it will all exist after COVID-19. But the pandemic brought a very specific set of challenges with a requirement for different approaches to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of staff and patients. In a very short space of time, additional strains and pressures were put on staff; long, busy shifts in full PPE, a swift change in working practices, worries about going home and exposing loved ones to the virus. Patients themselves became isolated due to visiting restrictions being put in place, not only losing direct contact with family and friends but also not having access to essentials such as toiletries and clean clothes that would normally be brought in by visitors.

Our donors and the public showed an unprecedented level of support for key workers and we had a responsibility to make sure that this went where it was needed most. As the official charity of NHS Lothian, we were able to put in place a fast and flexible response which allowed us to provide immediate support to staff and patients where and when they needed it most. Then, as the pandemic progressed and needs changed or arose, we were still able to be fast paced in our support, a benefit of working so closely together.  The close partnership between the NHS Health Board and NHS Charity is essential.

It’s going to be a difficult time for everyone as the COVID-19 situation develops, but we will continue to do everything that we can to support our NHS colleagues and patients through these difficult times and into the post-pandemic phase. Whilst the immediate support was critical to helping staff and patients through the early stages of the pandemic, we now have a bigger and possibly more important job to do to look at and deal with the longer term impacts on them and the people they care for.  We are so grateful that our donors’ and the public’s support will allow us to do that.

One thing is for certain, this pandemic has thrust NHS charities into the spotlight, highlighting the work that we do and the important partnerships that we have with our local NHS boards to be able to be responsive and supportive to new and changing requirements.

It’s going to be a long-term recovery for us all after Coronavirus but I know that our staff and patients have already benefited greatly from the support of the donors and the public during this time and will continue to benefit as we put in place plans for rebuilding resilience and reducing the long-term impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. As always, we will work with our partners not only in the NHS but across all sectors, to ensure that we turn this support into a positive lasting legacy for us all.


To find out more about how your donations have already supported our amazing NHS Lothian staff and patients, visit our Funded Projects page.