Research into the UK’s Health Partnership Scheme found that the evidence ‘overwhelmingly demonstrated the effectiveness of the partnership and volunteering approach in supporting health worker capacity strengthening’, noting that ‘long-term volunteering and strategic short-term volunteering are most effective’.
Our core programmes focus on delivering long-term partnerships with institutions – our programmes in Botswana date back to 2007, in El Salvador to 2008, in Myanmar in 2013, and in Uganda in 2014. This provides time to build crucial relationships, to assess how we can best help, and to work together and embed good practice. We believe the enduring nature of the partnerships also demonstrates the mutual value created and the strong communication and commitment between us.
Putting numbers on the value that the partnerships can deliver can be very challenging – not least due to the availability and interpretation of data and the inevitable complexities of associating cause and effect. Equally, ethical and practical issues can arise when quantifying life or disability.
We have attempted to overcome some of these challenges in our Social Return on Investment analysis of the El Salvador programme. The result is not definitive but does point to three key areas in which our programmes have positive impacts.
Strengthening Partners’ Health Systems
By introducing new techniques and procedures that help to make more of the limited resources available, our partners can get more value out of their often overstretched resources. This may be from training on specific skills and techniques, early detection and diagnosis, setting out and codifying procedures, introducing new systems, encouraging inter-disciplinary team working, or a mix of these. Such interventions can then have a real and sustained impact on clinical and other outcomes.
Developing Volunteers’ Skills
Our volunteers can come from all parts of the healthcare profession and from the recently qualified to some of the most experienced specialist consultants. All, however, have something to learn from the experience of working in often far more challenging and immediate situations, and with sometimes much more limited resources. Improvements in confidence, team working, leadership and flexibility are frequently reported by our returning volunteers – who often visit again and again to build on their skills.
Strengthening the NHS
The skills and knowledge gained also benefit NHS employers as volunteers return with enhanced experience and a fuller appreciation of the facilities and support available in their home institutions. Based on our surveys, 97% of our volunteers report that their volunteering has developed their communication skills, 88% are better able to manage limited resources, and 84% are refreshed and feel more motivated at work on their return.
Our partnerships thus develop a Win:Win:Win – a win for our overseas partners; a win for the individual NHS staff members involved who return to the NHS with a refreshed view of healthcare and their role in it; and so a win for their employer.
“I was so honoured and felt so valued by my team when my consultant asked me to volunteer to El Salvador. Volunteering overseas was something I had never experienced before and I saw a completely different way of life. It was a personal adventure for me as well as a professional one. I am trying to initiate things in CUH that I learnt out there. The learning has been both ways, and that’s the great thing about health partnerships!”