From the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, Terrence Higgins Trust relied on unpaid volunteers to comfort those coping with what was then a terminal illness.
These “buddies” were rarely medical professionals or counsellors but simply individuals who wanted to help, whether that meant collecting someone’s shopping, helping set their estate in order, or just offering companionship.
Times have moved on but community involvement remains and gives most charities a greater insight into beneficiaries’ needs, whether they’re financial, psychological or health related. It is recognition of this that encourages statutory services to partner with third sector providers. Partnerships with the NHS, local authorities and funders like the National Lottery have allowed us to innovate and diversify in a way that public services often don’t have space to.
For example, we have developed initiatives to enhance outcomes in HIV testing and long term condition management. We now offer one hour HIV FastTests that can be delivered anywhere - from local high streets to football tournaments - and have developed a website myHIV.org.uk that helps people living with HIV to manage their wellbeing. These services don’t offer an alternative to mainstream healthcare but, because they are developed with and by patients themselves, they uncover new ways of doing things and ease the strain on statutory services.
There is a growing need to shift the balance in healthcare from treatment to prevention. Everyone agrees on its urgency but the difficulty comes in finding the resource to undertake such a shift, particularly at a time when the NHS is already under immense pressure. Engaging voluntary organisations - innovative, nimble on their feet and embedded in so many ways in the communities they serve - is one way to help maximise the impact of services.
Sir Nick Partridge is chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust.
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Nick Partridge on volunteers