The approval and roll-out of vaccines has finally given all of us some light at the end of the tunnel, but we are very much still in the tunnel, especially those NHS workers who are currently caring for a surge of Covid patients.
Late last year, when we saw the beginning of the escalation in infection rates and hospital admissions, we knew there was a need to provide more direct and urgent support to NHS staff, volunteers and patients, so we distributed the £12m we had set aside for that possibility to all our member charities. Since then, many of our members are telling us how things have escalated and become critical for many of our hospitals and NHS services, particularly those in London and the south east.
NHS charities are doing everything they can to provide support, both in terms of meeting the short and urgent needs of patients, staff and volunteers and in helping to put in place the support needed by those who are recovering from Covid or recovering from caring for people with Covid.
We are hearing every day about the difference support from NHS charities is making. It includes modest but important things such as making sure staff have some decent, hot food available for them at the end of a long shift, particularly for those working in the evenings or through the night, when hospital canteens are closed. They are also providing quiet places where staff and volunteers can get away from it all if it gets too much.
Our charities supporting mental and community health NHS services have told us of the vital activity packs they have provided for isolated patients who no longer have access to group therapies due to Covid. Another charity is giving digital music therapy to staff and patients to support with their mental health and wellbeing. Others are funding talking therapies, physiotherapy and well-being packs for patients in the community.
In the South West, NHS Charities Together funding is currently being used to provide welfare cars full of refreshments for ambulance crews. We have all seen the images of lines of ambulances outside hospitals with long hand over times due to the sheer volume of Covid patients. Getting food and drink to these staff and volunteers is vital and is making a huge difference to staff, not just physically but by raising their morale and giving them strength to carry on.
A lot of NHS charities are rightly focusing their efforts on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff and volunteers. Those staff and volunteers are being confronted with huge challenges on a daily basis and we cannot allow their mental health to be another casualty of the crisis.
At the moment we are working closely with our member charities to see how we can increase the support they are providing, so that as many NHS staff, volunteers and patients as possible are getting support as they struggle with Covid. We will eventually emerge into the light, but in the meantime please do what you can to support NHS staff, volunteers and patients, starting with keeping yourself and the people you care about safe and well.