In March, the Health Foundation made a rapid assessment of what we could best do to help in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this work, we are supporting individuals and organisations across the health and social care system to deal with the current challenges. We are also building the evidence needed to understand longer-term implications on the nation’s health. 

The impact of the pandemic and the lockdown was felt quickly by people across society, with individuals who already faced greater disadvantage often being disproportionately impacted. The third sector, which plays a role in helping to support people in need, was facing a steep rise in demand at the same time as it was experiencing a reduction in its funding. We therefore took a decision to depart from our usual longer-term funding programmes to support voluntary sector organisations providing immediate help to vulnerable groups whose long-term health is at most risk.   

We made an early donation to the Trussell Trust, to help address rising food insecurity, and to several smaller organisations, including the Care Workers’ Charity. Since then, we have awarded further funding, some of which is explored in more detail below. So far, we have awarded around £2 million in funding to charities and community groups supporting people who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Getting money to where it’s urgently needed

Some groups in society have been hit harder by the coronavirus outbreak than others: not only older people and those with underlying health conditions, but those who are at the sharp end of health inequalities. Charities and community groups across the country are quickly adapting their services to continue to meet the needs of the people they support and seeing demand rise. 
The National Emergencies Trust is coordinating a national appeal and distributing funds to groups across the UK. We made a substantial contribution to its coronavirus appeal, with a significant amount ringfenced for black and minority ethnic-led charities supporting black and minority ethnic communities.

Lord Richard Dannatt, Chairman of the National Emergencies Trust, said, 'by distributing funds as swiftly as possible to thousands of grassroots charities and groups, our aim is to curb the impact of the crisis on communities as much as possible. In recent months, we’ve seen the nature of that impact change dramatically. In the early weeks of the appeal nearly half of grants were for food banks and food delivery services as people struggled to get access to essential items. Today, we can see the mental health implications of the pandemic really coming to the fore in grant applications for wellbeing services, such as bereavement counselling and mental health support. As the Government schemes that have proved a lifeline for so many now draw to a close, the needs in communities will evolve once again. Support from the Health Foundation means we can continue to respond to urgent needs on the ground, whatever shape those needs take.'

Supporting end-of-life care

We have made donations directly to a number of hospices, focusing our attention on hospices in the most deprived local authority areas in the UK and in need of funding. 

Hospices have a special place in our communities, providing holistic care to people at the end of their lives through inpatient and home-based care, as well as vital support to carers and families. 
Funding for hospices is often also rooted in the community, with vital funds raised through local charity shops, sponsored challenges and events. 

Chris Morton of Ardgowan Hospice in Greenock, Scotland, told us, 'COVID-19 necessitated the cancellation of several hospice fundraising events, which were expected to bring in over £100,000. The gift from the Health Foundation will replace some of this lost income, helping us to continue to provide care.'

In addition to having their fundraising significantly impacted by social distancing requirements, hospices have also had to adapt their services and some hospices have seen increased demand, particularly for home care.

'Hospice of the Valleys has continued to both deliver our usual services and respond to increased demand throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. This has coincided with a dramatic fall in income as our shops closed and fundraising events were cancelled, so support from the Health Foundation has been essential in helping us to continue to be there for the local population at a time when they need us most,' said Grant Usmar, CEO of Hospice of the Valleys in Ebbw Vale, Wales.

Debbie Briden, Grants & Trusts Manager at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice said, 'throughout the pandemic we have been providing round-the-clock care on our inpatient unit and offering vital support in people’s homes. We’ve also been working in partnership with GPs, district nurses and the NHS to ensure more people can get the right care as quickly as possible. Despite the increase in demand for our services, however, our ability to raise funds has taken a huge hit. So the Health Foundation’s contribution comes at a really critical time.'

Many of the people hospices serve are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and have found the isolation of shielding and being unable to see family and friends difficult. The quick action hospice teams have taken to adapt their support services, often moving groups and activities online, has made a real difference to people in these situations.

Alun Owen, Corporate Director of Willowbrook Hospice in Merseyside, said, 'this is a challenging time. Owing to the impact of COVID-19 and needing to close our shops, we lost substantial income. We then closed our inpatient unit to visitors in March so enabling patients to keep in touch with their families has been of key importance. We are upgrading our IT and communications equipment and bought iPads so inpatients can have video calls with their families.'

Supporting people who are homeless

We have made a donation directly to The Big Issue, which, for nearly 30 years, has offered people who are homeless or in unstable housing the opportunity to sell its magazine in their local area. The model creates an income, links people to support and services, and encourages connection with the local community.

Lara McCullagh, Executive Director at The Big Issue Group, said: 'for The Big Issue and its sellers, lockdown posed an immediate threat to our survival. Unable to sell the magazine on the streets, our vulnerable sellers struggled to meet their most basic needs, and for the organisation – which relies on trading income – its future was in jeopardy. But we responded quickly, and with the support of the public, businesses and organisations like the Health Foundation, we were able to provide our sellers with vital financial and emotional support during those 15 weeks.

'As street selling became an option once again, the focus shifted to ensuring sellers could earn a living in a safe and effective way which was in keeping with changes in public behaviour. With that in mind we have provided all new and returning sellers with PPE, and accelerated our move to cashless payment, to minimise risks and ensure our sellers reap the benefits of digital and financial inclusion.

'There is still much to be done, particularly as the number of people in poverty continues to increase, but The Big Issue remains committed to providing a hand up to anyone who needs it.'

Find out more about the Health Foundation's broader work responding to COVID-19 on our website.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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