30/06/2015 07:28 BST | Updated 28/06/2016 06:59 BST

Charity Partnerships, Empowered Patients and the Future of the NHS

"The future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health". It's a statement clear in its message and blunt in its truth.

The excerpt is taken from the Government's Five Year Forward View for the NHS and reflects just how important measures to promote and encourage health and wellbeing responsibility have become. The adage has always been that 'prevention is better than cure'. Well, when it comes to the long term viability of the NHS and our health as a nation, prevention could very well be the cure.

But how is this to be achieved? The Forward View is clear - by facilitating a future that "empowers patients to take much more control over their own care and treatment".

When you consider that 60 -70 per cent of premature deaths are caused by behaviours that could be changed, the importance of this mission is clear. As The King's Fund points out, patients simply have to "to become more engaged with adopting positive health behaviours."

I am a firm advocate of this concept, in particular the role that technology can and should play in helping individuals to manage their health and take steps to prevent conditions developing. It's an approach that sees patients become partners in their own care.

But there are other partnerships crucial to making the Government's healthcare ambitions a reality, in particular, third sector collaborations.

In 2011/2012, health charities spent £4bn on research, raising awareness and supporting patients. They are often the source of unparalleled knowledge and information on specific conditions, operate at a grassroots community level, and in many instances act as an invaluable and trusted intermediary between patients and the healthcare system. I cannot overstate their importance.

Charities often are also disruptive innovators, able to influence and adopt new ways of thinking and emerging technologies far more flexibly than core NHS services. For these reasons, any conversation about empowering patients and promoting personal health management that omits to include a role for third sector organisations is not one worth listening to.

Of course, close working partnerships between the NHS and charities are nothing new. You only have to consider the huge impact of organisations such as Cancer Research and Macmillan to see this. There are actually 573 charities registered in the UK with 'cancer; in their names. It's hard now to imagine a world where NHS services could ever exist in a vacuum, set apart from the valuable work of these organisations.

The British Heart Foundation alone spends nearly £30m a year on prevention and patient support services and many of its 60 projects are designed and delivered in partnership with NHS organisations.

As I say, charity partnerships are nothing new. What is new, however, is the current healthcare backdrop.

The NHS is struggling financially, our population is aging and the need for care associated with long-term conditions has never been greater. Coupled with the Government's emphasis on personal healthcare and widespread public uptake of smart technology, it's clear to me that a golden era of charity partnerships is emerging - one that will see them take a much greater role in the development and deployment of health and wellbeing technology.

We've already started to see this with the integration of charity driven condition actions plans and 'information prescriptions' in GP software tools, ensuring that the expertise of organisations such as Asthma UK and Diabetes UK is at the heart of healthcare.

But there is also great potential for charity collaborations to empower patients more directly.

I saw a great example of this recently - SafeSpot. Backed by Yorkhill Children's Charity, developed by two Glasgow GPs, SafeSpot is a mental health app that "brings together coping strategies and techniques with a safety plan specific to the user's need". One of the key reasons for its development is to ease pressure on local NHS services by helping young people to cope with and manage their condition.

Apps that help us monitor key health indicators and support those with long term conditions are breaking new ground on a daily basis and will continue to do so - particularly now that it is possible for us to share that information with the NHS healthcare professionals who care for us.

Charities with expert health knowledge are ideally positioned to work in partnership with both tech and NHS partners to develop innovations, but more importantly (and perhaps more feasibly for many charities) are key to helping people find out about, understand and benefit from the right solutions.

It's a three way collaboration that makes sure patients are well informed and empowered to make vital health changes or self-manage their conditions; a collaboration that can reduce unnecessary admissions because patients have taken control of their health; a collaboration that can help patients navigate the healthcare landscape with the confidence that comes from having a sense of understanding and control (and so do so more efficiently).

Above all, it's a not so 'radical' solution to the "radical upgrade in prevention and public health" that it needed.