Do health partnerships with organisations in lower income countries benefit the UK partner? A review of the literature

Global Health. 2013 Aug 30;9:38. doi: 10.1186/1744-8603-9-38.


Background: Health partnerships between institutions in the UK and Low or Lower- middle Income Countries are an increasingly important model of development, yet analysis of partnerships has focused on benefits and costs to the Low and Lower- Middle Income partner. We reviewed the evidence on benefits and costs of health partnerships to UK individuals, institutions & the NHS and sought to understand how volunteering within partnerships might impact on workforce development and service delivery.

Methods: A systematic review of both published literature and grey literature was conducted. Content relating to costs or benefits to the UK at an individual, institutional or system level was extracted and analysed by thematic synthesis. The benefits of volunteering described were mapped to the key outcome indicators for five different UK professional development structures. A framework was developed to demonstrate the link between volunteer experience within partnerships and improved UK service delivery outcomes.

Results: The literature review (including citation mapping) returned 9 published papers and 32 pieces of grey literature that met all inclusion criteria. 95% of sources cited benefits and 32% cited costs. Most literature does not meet high standards of formal academic rigor. Forty initial individual benefits codes were elicited. These were then grouped into 7 key domains: clinical skills; management skills; communication & teamwork; patient experience & dignity; policy; academic skills; and personal satisfaction & interest. A high degree of concordance was shown between professional benefits cited and professional development indicators within UK work force development frameworks. A theoretical trajectory from volunteer experience to UK service delivery outcomes was demonstrated in most areas, but not all. 32% of sources cited costs, yielding 15 initial codes which were grouped into 5 domains: financial; reputational; health & security; loss of staff; and opportunity costs.

Conclusions: There is little published or unpublished literature on the impact of volunteering within health partnerships to British individuals, institutions or the UK. The existing evidence base is descriptive and focuses on the benefits of volunteering. More work is required to quantify the costs and benefits of volunteering within health partnerships for individuals and institutions, and the associated challenges and barriers. Despite these limitations our analysis suggests that there is a strong theoretical argument that the skills acquired through volunteering are transferable to service delivery within the NHS and that the benefits to individuals and institutions could be maximised when volunteering is formally embedded within continuing professional development processes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Delivery of Health Care* / standards
  • Developed Countries*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Personnel* / standards
  • Humans
  • Professional Competence
  • State Medicine
  • United Kingdom
  • Volunteers