The benefits of partnerships between NHS researchers and the voluntary sector

Partnerships are now essential. The pandemic painfully exposed the need for robust and circular solutions that include end users at every stage of health and social care products and services life cycle.

It highlighted the need for deliberate approaches that access marginalised voices, and the need for inclusive research and a diverse dataset. It also epitomised what the NHS, local governments and the voluntary sector achieve through collaboration.

Just in February of 2022, NHS Digital (now part of NHS England) embarked on a new partnership with community and voluntary organisations.

The reason is to access and better understand the diverse users in order to continue to develop timely health and social care products and services that work for everyone in England. This is not the first time that NHS Digital is working with community and voluntary networks in England.

In the summer of 2021, I led IFB Gaming, in partnership with NHS Digital, to conduct the Usability Testing of the Covid 19 content on the NHS website and App. In March 2021, I supported NHS Digital to design research methods aimed at British Sign Language Users (BSL) and recruited the participants for NHS Language Project.

This article focuses on the benefits of a partnership between NHS Digital and Community Organisations and Networks in England.

Benefits of the partnership between NHS Digital and community networks

According to NHS Digitals’ user research team in Leeds, “the NHS is committed to being user-centred, ensuring that the products and services it develops meet user needs and conform to NHS guidelines and Government Service Standards.

As an organisation, the NHS has successfully reached out to many communities as part of its standard research practice through the National Digital Inclusion Network. However, the NHS also understands that they have not always engaged with some parts of the population; often those in seldom-listened-to groups and communities, and people who are less engaged emotionally and digitally.

Here are some of the benefits of partnership between the NHS and community and voluntary organisations. 

Inclusivity and diversity

This approach enables the NHS to learn more about the communities, get a better understanding of how to work with them and it supports operations through inclusion of a diverse range of voices. 

Quality and value for users of our products and services

Working with local community groups and networks will ensure that the NHS products and services are designed to be accessible and useful to all audiences. 

Value for Money

This approach makes the best value of public funds by reimbursing local community groups for recruiting seldom-heard participants (to reinvest in the communities they serve), rather than paying fees to profit-making agencies. 

Engagement and empowerment

Partnerships enable the NHS to give back to communities, by supporting engagement, skills and empowerment of individuals who may not usually engage or are disconnected.


Sharing information and knowledge about the workings of the health and care system may be beneficial to members of the local community, ensuring that research is accessible and communicated in an understandable language. Furthermore, the NHS can also signpost patients to appropriate local digital inclusion services.

The government wants more patients to receive better care through strategic partnerships between the NHS, local government and social care systems.

The government’s latest white paper titled “Joining up for people, places and population” sets out measures to make integrated health and social care a universal reality for everyone across England regardless of their condition and to level up regardless of their background or location.

But first, we will need to manifest conduits that access the disparate members and cultures in England and Wales. Despite our collective efforts, the current system means that too often patients find themselves having to navigate complex and disjointed systems. In many case, they also lack the Essential Digital Skills for health and their voices are not efficiently represented within the current construct.

Personally speaking, the call to action is another step in the right direction for health and social care in England and Wales, and we will see more and more partnerships in the future as we continue to design a nation where everyone can fully participate and reach their potential during technology adoption maturity and beyond.

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