St John Ambulance is emerging ‘resilient and confident’ from a year that has seen the health and first aid charity stretched to its limits but excelled in its support to the nation’s health during the coronavirus pandemic.
The charity’s 2020 annual report, published this week, tells the story of how thousands of St John volunteers and staff from across the country stepped up in the fight against COVID-19. Training and deployment began in earnest in March 2020, and by the end of the year, 250,000 hours of patient-facing care and support to the NHS had been given in hospitals, community settings and as ambulance crew.
When preparation for the vaccination programme began, St John set about recruiting and training up to 30,000 more volunteers to work as vaccinators and care for people getting their jabs.
In the report, Anthony Marsh, NHS National Strategic Adviser for Ambulance Services, is quoted giving this praise to St John for its vital support:
“I honestly believe that if we had not worked so closely, the ability of Emergency Ambulance Services within our country to respond so effectively to the pandemic would have been greatly hindered.
“Without your volunteers and staff members, the country would not have been able to increase the number of resources that we have been able to deploy. This has undoubtedly helped to relieve pressure on the 999 service and ensure we have been able to save as many lives as possible.”
Backdrop of financial challenges
The report also reveals the struggles behind St John’s extraordinary achievements against a backdrop of falling income – at one stage losing an estimated £1.5m per week – and the need for unprecedented and rapid change.
Amid its life-saving activity, St John’s chief source of income – first aid training – was cut by 50% on the previous year’s earnings, to £23.4m, due to lockdown and the need to deliver courses in a safe, socially distanced way. In addition, the charity’s work providing first aid cover at public events and running youth activities dropped 71% to £2.1m and was loss-making.
While St John’s pandemic work supporting the NHS in hospitals brought in an unforeseen £4.4m and its ambulance income rose by a quarter to £16m, the charity reported an overall operating deficit of £7.9m, up from £7.1m the previous year.
Faced with this sharp fall in income and the need to ramp up its support to the NHS, the charity asked for Government support. This came in the form of a grant of £6.8m, from a nationwide pot of £750m, plus the furlough scheme, which contributed £4.8m towards the wage costs for some 870 St John employees, the number furloughed at the peak.
To offset the losses, St John Ambulance’s fundraising team launched an Emergency Appeal, which raised £3.2m. Overall, fundraising income for the year rose £2.1m to £19m, of which donations were up to £14.2 from £11.8m.
The annual report also shows cost-cutting measures helped to bring down total expenditure £8.7m to £99.1m. These included 181 redundancies – predominantly through a voluntary scheme – and selling off four properties. To further shore up its finances, the charity arranged a £10m bank loan, which it did not use, and took £5m cash from investments.
By the end of the year, including the funding from the Government, the charity’s overall income was down 10% to £92.2m. Operational free reserves were £18.3m, down from £27.1m.
Resilience for the future
The report also reveals the pandemic has prompted the charity to start or speed up a raft of initiatives to strengthen its position for the future and move closer to its target of an operating surplus in 2022.
These measures include investment in a fleet of new environmentally sustainable ambulances, designed in part by St John volunteers, innovation in first aid training, new technology and data insights, and enhanced wellbeing programme for St John people and the development of a wide-ranging internal culture change programme to improve diversity, inclusivity and transparency.
St John has also partnered with the NHS, YMCA and other organisations to build on its youth activity, particular aiming to involve seldom-heard groups of young people.
Prior of England and the Islands and chair of St John Ambulance, Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis praised the work of St John volunteers and staff for their ‘immense contribution’ to the nation in 2020.
“Throughout our long and illustrious history, those of us privileged to serve humanity in the name of St John have sought to improve the lives of those around us.
“This has never been more evident than in the response by St John people in England in 2020, where our collective contribution has made a profoundly positive impact upon the health of our nation.
“The hard choices made to sustain our charity with financial constraints, property disposals and job losses have added to the demands that we place upon our people, yet your powerful determination to deliver has been unyielding.
“We have trained, treated and transported the nation, we have helped to vaccinate its population, and we have improved the lives of the people about whom we care so much.”
For more information on St John Ambulance’s work and for health advice, please visit: www.sja.org.uk/COVID-19.