What are healthcare professionals’ key priorities when referring patients to charities?

What are healthcare professionals’ key priorities when referring patients to charities?

Healthcare professionals are important gatekeepers in linking patients with the relevant charities for their needs. Our past research has shown that 69% of the public agree that they would be more likely to go to a charity for information about a health condition if a nurse, GP, or consultant recommended it[1]. This emphasises the essential role that healthcare professionals play in getting people to access key information and services from charities.

But what are healthcare professionals looking for when they refer to charities?

In our 2017 research with primary healthcare professionals we asked 275 GPs and nurses (including 75 GPs who have a commissioning role) what their referral priorities for the ‘ideal’ charity out of a prompted list were. Here are some of the key priorities that we found:


Healthcare professionals value information that is free and quick/easy to find.

This was the top priority for healthcare professionals and in the current context of healthcare professionals feeling increasingly stretched for resources and time it is easy to see why. In 2016 The Kings Fund found that there were increasing demands on general practices, and GPs workloads have increased in both volume and complexity[2].

The fact that this comes top of the list for making referrals shows how any barrier to accessing information about your charity will prevent a referral. There were lots of comments from healthcare professionals who were impressed by the information provided by charities including a community nurse who was impressed by British Heart Foundation because of their “Free booklets for patients and helpline.”

Convenience in accessing information and services is a key theme for healthcare professionals when they are referring. Having a local presence is another high priority that demonstrates the significance that is placed on convenience by healthcare professionals. This emphasizes how important it is to publicise your local services with NHS professionals in the area.


37% of healthcare professionals said that ‘It can meet particular needs of my patients’ was a top priority when referring.

Age UK was mentioned by a number of healthcare professionals in our most recent survey for their “nail cutting for the elderly” services. Foot care is available on the NHS but only if it is for a specific foot problem or a longstanding concern. Age UK’s website highlights local places where people can get this done for a fee[3]. This is a great example of a charity identifying and responding to a specific need that helps to improve the care and support that their beneficiaries receive.


Responsive and timely delivery is a priority for GPs who have a role on a Clinical Commissioning Group.

This is where past experience of a charity’s services along with a charity’s reputation will shape referral perceptions. It also drives home the importance of ensuring that interactions with healthcare professionals are streamlined from the moment they make contact with a charity whether this is being responsive on email or a website that can be navigated easily. A comment from a GP about a local charity that had impressed them included that they were “An amazing local charity […] really responsive and flexible and creative[...]”.

Although these are healthcare professionals’ priorities for the what they think the ‘ideal’ charity for referrals would be like, we have found that in practice other factors can also be important when they are asked about specific charities. For example, the credibility of the organisation became a higher priority for healthcare professionals when they were asked about a particular charity. Reputation will be built on the quality of the services that you provide, but it will also be influenced by your brand and fundraising communications.

Identifying how healthcare professionals view your charity and what areas they need support in will help to improve the information and support that they can provide. This will ultimately ensure that patients and beneficiaries are recommended and referred to the vital information and services that they need.

Heather Sturgess

For more information about our research with healthcare professionals please download the briefing pack or contact Heather via phm@nfpsynergy.net

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