Like many of you I’ve relied on charities at times in my life when I’ve been at my lowest. When I was 20 my mum died of cancer. It was a dark and painful time, but charities like Macmillan and Marie Curie were there for me and my family. It made me see the voluntary sector as an essential part of the healthcare jigsaw and because of this I’m here today as a National Voices trustee.
I’ve spent my career working for health charities, including National Voices members: Parkinson’s UK, Carers UK, the BMA - and Macmillan where I work now. I believe passionately in charities’ unique role in supporting those who need help most, campaigning to make services fairer and better and joining to amplify the voices of the most marginalised. But it’s not about speaking for - it’s about speaking with services users. One of my proudest achievements was a Carers UK project to empower carers to influence local and national services - from getting councils to fund respite care, to winning changes in legislation. Their successes were hugely inspiring and have shaped my approach to changing policy.
It’s this partnership that is in charities’ DNA. I work for a big, well-funded charity. Yet Macmillan doesn’t reach into every community. Through joining forces with community groups and charities like Cancer Black Care and Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque we can be more than the sum of our parts.
And it’s this rich coalition of charities of all shapes and sizes which makes National Voices so strong. I’ve seen this firsthand in their work to speak up for people shielding during the pandemic and putting health inequalities centre-stage. When it talks authoritatively about the needs of people with Long Covid, or people’s access needs, the health and care sector sits up and takes notice. That’s a huge tribute to Charlotte and the rest of National Voices staff and trustees, and to National Voices' members.
Clearly there is still a lot that we as a sector need to do. The pandemic has cruelly exposed that we are not all in it together. The inequalities are plain to see– whether that’s people receiving a cancer diagnosis and starting treatment too late to save their life, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minority ethnic communities’ health and lives, or those left behind as the NHS accelerates digital technologies. Our charities are a lifeline for many of these groups. No, it won’t be an easy ride – with health services and professionals under intense pressure and huge competition for limited resources. But if not us then who? I’m confident that National Voices is best placed to lead and shape this discussion and achieve meaningful change.
I’ve spent more than 20 years analysing health systems from a charity perspective, looking for ways that the voluntary sector can have more clout. As well as relying on their incredible support, I’ve also volunteered for charities. And I bring Macmillan’s passion and drive to the table. I know many of you will have personal experiences and stories that have brought you to your charities and inspire you to change things for the better. Because it’s never just a day job is it? I’m looking forward to working with the other National Voices trustees, staff, and with many of you on what will I’m sure be an ambitious but hugely important programme. I can’t wait to start!
Senior Policy Adviser, Macmillan Cancer Support