July 27, 2023

The Impact of Philanthropy on UK Healthcare

Author John Canady, Chief Executive Officer

The National Health Service (NHS) recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, marking a significant milestone in England’s healthcare system.

When it was founded in 1948, the NHS became the first universal health system to be available to all. Today it treats over a million people per day, touching most people’s lives in England. It has been at the forefront of medical innovation, from Europe’s first liver transplant in 1968, to delivering the first accredited COVID-19 vaccine in the world.

However, the anniversary has also bought attention to the challenges and pressures faced daily by the NHS, providing an opportunity to explore how and where private funding and philanthropy can play a role in supporting a free public healthcare system.

Philanthropy’s influence on UK healthcare can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries when philanthropists recognised the need for organised healthcare institutions and initiatives. Voluntary hospitals, such as the London Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital), were established through a combination of funding from a mix of wealthy businesses and individual subscribers. These institutions paved the way for modern healthcare and became the bedrock upon which the NHS was built.

One individual who left a permanent mark on UK healthcare is Florence Nightingale. A philanthropist known for committing her time and energy, rather than funding, Nightingale’s pioneering work in the 19th century revolutionised nursing and had a profound impact on the healthcare industry. Her dedication and commitment continue to inspire individuals to pursue careers in the sector, shaping the future of healthcare in the UK.

Fast forward to the modern day, the COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the importance of private funding in healthcare. With the immense strain on the NHS, private donations played a crucial role in addressing the everyday needs of treating patients. Temporary hospitals, named ‘Nightingale hospitals’, were constructed with the support of philanthropic funding, providing essential treatment capacity during the peak of the pandemic.

Prominent business executives and philanthropists also donated significant sums to NHS trusts and research projects during the pandemic. This generosity helped frontline workers with access to medical equipment, supported vaccine development and distribution, and enabled the UK to secure a robust supply thus ensuring that there were enough vaccine doses to reach as many people as possible.

Beyond the pandemic, philanthropy has long shaped UK healthcare through private foundations and charitable organisations with a focus on healthcare research and innovation. The Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest biomedical research charities, remains at the forefront of medical research and healthcare projects.

Other well-known charities, such as Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, concentrate on specific health issues, raising funds for research, awareness, and patient support. These organisations drive medical advancements and ensure the UK remains a leader in healthcare research and innovation.

While the NHS provides the nation with a remarkable and easily accessible healthcare system, philanthropy has been instrumental in its development, supported by individuals and organisations who strive for positive change and improving the well-being of society as a whole.

About the Author

John Canady, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust UK, has 25 years of experience working across the business, nonprofit and government sectors. He specializes in creating and managing philanthropic funds for donors and family offices around the world who wish to base their philanthropy from the UK.