Well – it has been both the longest year ever and the shortest. When we launched our Covid-19 appeal as the first lockdown started a year ago, we had no idea how long we would be running it for and how the challenge facing the NHS would develop. We just knew that we wanted to do whatever we could to provide support to NHS staff, volunteers and patients as they faced the unknown and the unprecedented.
The NHS stepped up and I am immensely proud that our member charities stood alongside them, doing everything they could to provide vital support to staff, volunteers and patients.
With hospitals filling up with extremely sick patients, NHS staff were striving to provide life-saving care, learning and adapting on a daily basis to fight back against this new enemy, seeing every person sent home from hospital as a victory. Our members used some of the first funds we raised to give practical support to those staff and volunteers leading that fight – providing nutritious food; places where they could relax, snatch a few moments to themselves and recuperate before returning to their vital work; offering counselling support to help them deal with the stress and emotional trauma of providing care in such difficult circumstances. They also used those funds to give patients who were frightened and cut off from their loved ones the chance to see and hear them via video calls and to provide bereavement support to the families of those whose lives were lost to the virus.
Looking back now, I’m in awe of how the NHS, and its staff and volunteers responded to the biggest health challenge it has ever faced, and that NHS charities were able to play a role, however seemingly modest, in helping them to do so.
As the crisis developed over the year, so did the support NHS charities gave – funding community partnerships to help patients leaving hospital and starting, for some, down the long road to recovery from Covid; increasing the support for NHS staff and volunteers so their mental health and wellbeing didn’t become another casualty of the pandemic.
The only reason NHS charities were able to do that was because the public had the same instinctive response that we had at the beginning of the pandemic – to be there for the NHS, for the staff and volunteers that we all saw on TV struggling desperately to save lives and turn the tide on the virus.
With over £150m donated since we launched the appeal, when we had no real idea where it would go and what it would raise, I think we can say that the public has come through for the NHS. We are doing everything we can to repay that commitment and generosity by working with the 240 NHS charities across the country to make sure those donations are being used as effectively as possible.
Like everyone else, we are looking forward to the end of this crisis, to that moment when we can breathe a sigh of relief and say that it’s over. We are much closer to that point now thanks to the remarkable work of the NHS to get the people most vulnerable to the virus vaccinated so quickly. Today is a chance to reflect, to remember those who have died and the loss that has affected every community. It’s a chance to be thankful for the sacrifices made by NHS staff who put themselves at increased personal risk to care for patients, and to consider just how important the NHS is to our lives and our future health and wellbeing.
What the last year has also reinforced is that the need to support the NHS above and beyond what is possible through public funding will not end when this crisis does.
The NHS will need the support of NHS charities and the public more than ever as it seeks to recover from this crisis and heads into more uncharted territory. There will be new challenges for the service to confront as well as opportunities – to give extra support to staff, to fund pioneering research, to improve the experience for patients as they receive care, to nurture projects and approaches that keep people out of hospital in the first place and help them recover when they do need treatment.
So, what would be amazing is if that instinct to give that so many people had over the past year became a habit. Because the NHS is stronger when the public has its back. It’s why NHS charities exist and why they will keep on caring for the NHS and be there for its staff, volunteers and patients. With the public’s backing, NHS charities can play a key role in supporting the NHS to face whatever challenges get thrown at it in the future and help it deliver even better care for all of us and our loved ones.