The U.K. Department for International Development looks set to renew a health partnership scheme currently worth 30 million pounds ($36 million), according to sources close to the U.K. government.
Ministers were positive about the outcomes of a five-year health partnership scheme managed by the charity Tropical Health and Education Trust, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue in their workplace.
HPS facilitates collaboration between health institutions in the U.K. and those in low- and middle-income countries, with the aim of sharing knowledge and information to train health workers and improve health services. The program is also meant to benefit the U.K.’s National Health Service as returning volunteer health workers often come back with new skills and experience. The scheme has funded and supported 157 partnerships in 34 countries since 2011.
HPS is set to finish in April 2017, and the outcome of an independent evaluation currently underway will determine THET’s chances for a new funding package from DfID.
The source told Devex that they expect DfID to retain a similar health partnership program in the future that would be funded separately from other partnership initiatives. They said this was implied in the wording of DfID’s GREAT for Partnership program business case, which states that health partnerships will be “separately funded”. However, the source was unable to suggest if any future health partnership program’s scope and size would change from that of the HSP, and when it might begin.
The news comes at a time when U.K. development organizations are unclear about the future of contracts with the government department. DfID is yet to announce the outcome of several aid reviews, and the recent appointment of a new leadership team has made it harder to guess what the department has in store.
The GREAT for Partnership program began this month, as part of a new commitment from DfID to boost partnerships between U.K. institutions and their counterparts in the developing world. The four-and-a-half-year long project, worth 35 million pounds ($42.8 million), will focus on extractives, financial accountability and anti-corruption. Health partnerships fall outside of that budget, but DfID has not announced how much it intends to spend in this area.
Comments made by DfID global health policy adviser Nicola Watt at the THET conference seemed to confirm the suggestion the HPS would continue.
During a session about the scheme’s evaluation, Watt described the program as “hugely important to DfID.” She added that DfID’s current ministers were “very excited about the partnership’s approach.”
“There is a significant commitment on the behalf of government to partnerships, as flagged in the [Conservative] manifesto, which the new ministers have said they will continue to implement,” Watt continued.
“That’s a commitment to boost partnerships between U.K. institutions and their counterparts in the developing world. So there is increased ambition there.
“What remains to be worked on is what that increased ambition looks like. And there is significant pressure on all of us, as we know, to get it right and get the best results for taxpayers’ money.”
A positive evaluation
The scheme’s evaluators gave a glimpse of what they will report back to DfID during the conference. Speaking from the sidelines to Devex, Health Partners International Director Georgia Taylor said she and co-evaluators from consultancy Triple Line were “very impressed” with the evidence they had seen.
In the session about the scheme’s evaluation, Taylor said that, overall, the HSP had delivered “good effectiveness in improving skills and confidence of health workers in the host countries.”
She said partnerships had delivered benefits in developing countries including changes in approaches to service delivery, institutionalized learning and improved quality of care.
One example of this was a family planning project in Uganda. The scheme had resulted in a local hospital providing a “whole-institution” approach, which meant all patients were routinely screened for unmet family planning needs.
Taylor also described outcomes of the HSP on U.K. health institutions. Some 1,700 National Health Service staff have volunteered with partner organizations in developing countries with the aim of bringing back increased knowledge, improved leadership skills and better understanding of how to innovate with limited resources.
Taylor said the evaluation had showed NHS volunteers did return with improved competencies and skills. “We saw huge improvements in motivation and appreciation of the NHS,” she described.
In her recommendations, Taylor said longer-term funding would help strengthen partnerships. “That came out and resonated quite a lot with some of the people we spoke to,” she said. Her conclusion echoed comments made earlier at the conference by DfID Minister Rory Stewart, who pointed out that funding cycles can restrict development practitioners from building partnerships.
THET evaluation and learning manager Dan Ritman believes DfID will renew the HPS, but despite seeing a draft version of the evaluation, he told Devex he’s not sure what the renewed program might look like or when DfID may invite bids to manage a successor scheme.
He points to the fact DfID spent 400,000 pounds on the independent evaluation as evidence of its significance within the department. “It implies they were interested in getting a high quality evaluation and learning as much as they could from it,” Ritman told Devex.
Given the choice, Ritman would like to see the HPS scaled up — even to whole-country health systems. The scheme currently awards grants of all sizes, as low as 5,000 pounds for scoping studies, up to 1.5 million pounds over four or five years. “There is potential to make use of this partnership model — the institution relationships, the U.K. health worker volunteers — on really a much bigger scale,” he suggested.
The external evaluators have a deadline of Oct. 31 to deliver their final report to DfID. The department expects to release the document to the public in November.