• Health charities facing financial “cliff-edge” and are struggling to access government support
  • Numerous charities told HSJ they may need to cut services such as nurses working within the NHS, nurse-led helplines and social support provided alongside clinicians
  • Concerns raised that patients will be left without “vital services”

The NHS will face “major problems” from health charities having to withdraw their services due to the financial impact of coronavirus, it has been warned.

Multiple organisations told HSJ that they would have to cut down the help they offer people if they cannot shore up their income. All said they were unlikely to be eligible for the £750m charity funding the Treasury announced on 8 April.

The work done by these charities includes nurses providing cancer care, nurse-led telephone support and social support services offered during hospital clinics.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates charities will lose approximately £4bn in projected income in the three months from March 2020, although it is not known how much of this is connected to health charities.

Charlotte Augst, chief executive of National Voices, which represents over 150 charities across health and care, told HSJ: “Community fundraising has literally gone off a cliff. This makes the work we as health and care charities do unsustainable, which will cause a major problem for the NHS, but more importantly for the people we support. Where are people going to go with their information and advice needs if charities need to reduce their service offer?

“GPs or clinical teams are more expensive, and often a less holistic way of supporting people who don’t just struggle with clinical needs, but are often also lonely, worried about their incomes or carers’ responsibilities. Charities are experts at seeing the person, not the illness.”

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations told HSJ that health charities are ”set up to respond to a need that is not being met elsewhere” and “are experiencing a surge in demand for their services while simultaneously seeing income fall off a cliff-edge”.

Among the health charities which outlined their concerns to HSJ are:

  • Muscular Dystrophy UK pays for staff members to be based in neuromuscular specialist NHS clinics, provides online training modules for NHS staff and is developing coronavirus guidance for patients. Rob Burley, director of campaigns, care and support, told HSJ, “all this activity is at risk of ceasing if we do not get any support from government”. The charity has written to the health secretary about its concerns.
  • A spokeswoman for Macmillan Cancer Support, whose cancer nurses have been redeployed into covid work, said it could see a 50 per cent drop in fundraising this year to date. The charity’s submission to a recent health select committee also warned: “Due to significant funding shortfall, NHS professionals have been furloughed as their host charity [not Macmillan] can no longer afford to pay their salaries and support cancer care within the NHS.”
  • A spokesman for Beat, an eating disorders charity, said calls to its helpline had gone up by 35 per cent “overnight” in part because of “actual and perceived restrictions” of accessing health care providers. The spokesman said the charity was relying on the economy recovering quickly if it is to “avoid cutting helpline services”.
  • The British Liver trust’s nurse-led support line saw calls increase by 140 per cent in March and has set up virtual support groups for isolated patients. Its chief executive Pamela Healy told HSJ: “I am worried that without additional support we will have to make some difficult choices and be unable to sustain all of our services in the future.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman told HSJ: “We are indebted to all our health and social care staff and volunteers, including those providing vital services through charities, for the role they are playing in our national response to coronavirus.  

”In addition to the £750m announced by the chancellor to support the charity sector, charities can access a range of [other financial] support.”

However HSJ understands charities are struggling to access the announced funding. The final eligibility criteria for different sections are yet to be decided, but many national charities are concerned this money will be limited to those working in specific localities or regions.

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “We’ve had no guarantees about what government funding is available. We’re doing all we can but we, and many other charities, urgently need more support from the government.”

A report by the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee has urged the government to allow charity workers who have been furloughed to volunteer for the same charity. It also criticised the government for failing to clarify how charities can access its government fund.

The report said: ”It seems inevitable that this lack of transparency means deserving charities will miss out on much-needed support.”

Updated on 7 May 2020 to clarify the statement made by MacMillan Cancer Support