Health charities have been innovative and helped to protect the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic but are still being ignored by policymakers, according to a report by academics.
A paper, Health charities and the NHS. A vital partnership in peril?, was published today by Dr Tony Hockley from the LSE and Professor Alison Leary from London South Bank University, and looks at how different health charities responded during the pandemic, and the challenges facing the sector.
The study was commissioned by the National Garden Scheme, and is based on the experiences of six charities it funds: The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carer’s Trust and Parkinsons UK.
It calls for policymakers to work more closely with charities, which it says are “illogically” excluded from policy planning.
Charities have adapted and innovated
The paper highlights different ways charities have adapted their services during the pandemic to continue to support services users and the NHS, while at the same time experiencing “unprecedented financial and emotional stress”.
It says: “The charities covered in this paper not only rearranged their own services in response to the pandemic but often also helped guide NHS services through the coronavirus challenge. However, the initiative to do so came almost invariably from the charities themselves, with little or no forethought from the NHS, policymakers, or other public service leaders.”
It adds that charities are needed to help improve the experience of ageing and dying, and says: “Charities are leading the way on service innovation and value, yet they seem to be ignored in the policy discourse.”
By responding and adapting during the pandemic charities “will have played a significant role in limiting the backlog of need that will be faced by the NHS and social care system”, the report says.
However, it cautions: “There is no guarantee that these charities can sustain themselves if faced with an extended restriction on their main fundraising activities. Similarly, there is no guarantee, indeed it seems highly unlikely, that the charities will be able to fill the growing gap between public services and public needs in these priority areas.”
Pandemic should be a ‘wake up call’
The report calls for charities to be “better integrated into planning for future challenges” before the next crisis.
It concludes: “In health and social care the UK faces the prospect of a more aged and vulnerable population, with much higher death rates than is currently the norm outside a pandemic. At the same time expectations are rising that services will be better personalised and delivered with empathy for each of us.
“Charities will be essential partners in delivering against these needs. The pandemic of 2020 has been a wake up call on the need for stronger partnership that cannot be ignored. Charities need to be back at the heart of future planning, no longer left out on a limb until the next crisis hits.”
Stronger relationship ‘imperative’
Report 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 relies 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.”
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.”