A new study reveals how the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the vital contribution of health charities to the NHS. It argues that strategic engagement with the charities by health policymakers has declined in recent years and that substantial benefits for the health service as a whole would come with a reaffirmation of this partnership.
The report by Dr Tony Hockley from the LSE and Professor Alison Leary from London South Bank University, commissioned by the National Garden Scheme, highlights the crucial services and leadership that healthcare charities provide for the NHS, both of which have been shown to be critical throughout the current pandemic.
It sets out that for hospice and end-of-life care, so threatened by COVID-19, the health service is dependent on charities for the provision of services. In this and other areas such as cancer care and social care, charities also provide vital leadership and strategic input. The report articulates the current fragility due to the pandemic and the resulting risk to services, and it sets out the pressing need for better recognition of and healthy engagement with these charities by policymakers, and the benefits that this would bring.
The six health charities included in the report are all supported with annual donations from the National Garden Scheme.
Commenting on their findings, the report’s authors Tony Hockley and Alison Leary said:
“The pandemic of 2020 accelerated the onset of the health and social care system’s biggest challenges. It was a wake-up call about coping with rising daily deaths – a trend that is set to continue as our population ages. The report reminds policymakers how much the nation’s health and care rely upon health charities and shares inspirational stories from these charities about their agility in keeping services going during the pandemic. They have done this despite a fundraising crisis, infection controls and weak planning around their involvement by health policymakers. Given what lies ahead, a much stronger partnership between the NHS and these major charities is imperative.”
The report focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and shows how, during the first wave, the charities stepped up with speed and expertise to provide services, innovation and expertise on the frontline, caring with compassion for those suffering and dying in our communities. In a context of fear and disruption, these charities responded by re-deploying staff, increasing capacity and supporting patients inside and outside of hospitals. All of this was achieved in the face of drastic reductions in their traditional funding streams.
Often the charities showed vital leadership and initiative to the NHS, whether in the provision of PPE, a policy for caring for the homeless, maintaining support for people living with cancer, or in the provision of end-of-life care in the face of critically increased demand.
Lord (Nigel) Crisp, former Chief Executive of the English NHS and Permanent Secretary at the UK Department of Health, who is also Patron of NHS Charities Together, commented:
“Health charities play a vital role in our society, something forcefully demonstrated by the pandemic. I fully support the call that this excellent report makes for a stronger partnership between charities and the NHS so that their contribution can have an even bigger impact in the future.”
Representing the charities Lynda Thomas, CEO of Macmillan Cancer Support said:
“This exceptional contribution needs to be better understood and embraced by the government. As health and social care charities, we play a vital role in the NHS and will need to do so in the future. Without these services and our support, the workforce will be unable to meet demand.”
Tracey Bleakley, CEO Hospice UK added:
“The crisis in recent months has served to break down previously existing barriers and opened eyes to the possibility of greater integration, collaboration and co-working between the NHS and health charities. The healthcare sector now has the opportunity to find innovative and complimentary skillsets to best help meet the needs of an ageing and increasingly vulnerable population.”