Perhaps the continuing debate over the NHS had something to do with it. Or the health board's well publicised financial problems. Perhaps not. But it was announced this week that the level of charitable donations made to NHS Highland keeps growing.

Last year, the health board received donations totalling £767,000 - £5,000 more than in the previous year.

Donations are typically received from patients and relatives, funeral collections, legacies and bequests through the Gift Aid initiative and fund-raising events. They are also made in lieu of gifts, anniversaries and weddings.

Donations to NHS Highland go to the Highland Health Board Endowment Fund, a registered charity which holds the money in trust. It contains more than 350 individual funds, mainly for hospital wards, centres or departments. For example, one fund may be for purchasing amenities for patients, while another may be for buying a particular piece of equipment.

However, there's been a growing trend of using endowments to buy goods to help support

people with dementia in hospitals and care homes.

Ruth Mantle, Alzheimer Scotland dementia nurse consultant with NHS Highland, explained: "We are supporting a growing number of people with dementia and it is heartening to see an increase in the number of donations being made to help enhance the care and support for people with dementia.

"We are finding that endowments are increasingly being used to buy items such as memory boxes that help people reminisce and share meaningful conversations, and large clocks that make it easier to tell the time and help keep the person orientated."

The figures do not include money from work undertaken by the Archie Foundation, on behalf of NHS Highland, towards the creation of a new children's ward at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Then there are the likes of Macmillan Nurses and of course the Highland Hospice in Inverness.

Donations make up 98% of the former's income, while the latter charity is currently in the middle of arguably the most important fund-raising campaign in its successful history.

It says that its Patient Unit at its site on the banks of the River Ness, is now 25 years old. At half the size suggested by current guidelines, it no longer offers the standards of privacy, dignity and choice patients and their families deserve.

It currently only has four single rooms and two shared rooms in the unit, all of which are much smaller than guidelines recommend, making it challenging for the hospice clinical team to care for patients. Staff also struggle with a lack of space for bereavement support services and family accommodation.

So it was decided that the most effective way to modernise the Highland Hospice was to demolish the existing unit and rebuild on the same site, with patients decanting to a temporarily to the County Community Hospital in Invergordon.

The total cost of providing what is predicted to be a "fantastic facility" with nine single rooms and one shared bedroom, is £6.5million. Highland Hospice is committed to funding £2million of these costs from current reserves which have been built up over a number of years for this purpose.

A Project Build Appeal was also launched to raise the remaining funds required to bring this project to life. According to the hospice's website this now stands at just under £3m.
The level of both the reserves and the appeal speak volumes for the organisation and work of the charity, which is one of the best supported in the Highlands. Indeed it has been said that others find it hard to compete when so much voluntary happily effort is directed to helping the Highland Hospice. It is the charity of choice for many.

However anyone who has experienced the warmth, commitment and sheer professionalism of hospice staff as they care for loved ones through difficult, dark and often final weeks, days, hours of their lives will understand this all too well.

It is the only hospice serving adults with "incurable life limiting disease" in the Highlands and is acknowledged as a resource of specialist palliative care expertise in the region. In recognition of this it receives around one third of its funding from the NHS.

But it is a charity and makes no charge to patients or their families, relying on the support of the public for the all rest of its income. It has shops at 11 different Highland locations, and its teashop is not only used by visitors to the hospice but also many more people who just drop in for their morning coffee or a spot of lunch.

The people of the Highlands have long held their hospice close, seeing it as a haven of humanity and care, whether or not they have had any direct experience of it.

The giving, whether it be to the NHS directly or to health charities like the Highland Hospice Macmillan or Marie Curie, will continue regardless of the debate, which it seems will always rage over the central funding of the health service. It has never been about that.