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Responding to the coronavirus

It was in February that it became clear the coronavirus was going to be an issue in the UK, and that it was likely to be particularly dangerous for people with blood cancer. This is because people with blood cancer have weakened immune systems and because some blood cancer treatments weaken the immune system further.

Supporting our community

We responded to this by bringing together a coalition of cancer charities that, together with the NHS, jointly developed advice for people with cancer. The One Cancer Voice document, published in March, meant people with cancer got consistent and up-to-date information, whichever cancer charity they contacted. Given the fast-changing situation and emerging new evidence, we continued to coordinate the coalition, regularly updating the document.

Alongside this, our health information team developed information specifically for people with blood cancer, and worked to keep it up-to-date. There were more than 70,000 page views of our online coronavirus information in March alone.

When the Prime Minister announced on 16 March that people with blood cancer were among those who would have to shield to protect themselves, we saw an unprecedented increase in demand for our services. There was a huge surge in calls to our support line and one Facebook post, in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement, had 2,000 comments. We had to change the way we worked overnight, with people drafted in from different teams to enable us to respond.

We had to do this at the same time as closing our office and suddenly shifting to everyone working from home. Yet because of our previous focus on building a strong culture and improving our IT, we were able to make this change almost seamlessly.

As well as giving information and support to our community, we communicated the importance of stopping the spread of the virus to the general public. A video we produced telling people that social distancing was the most important thing they could do to support people with blood cancer was shared more than 800 times.

We started a survey that gave the most detailed available picture of the experience of the coronavirus pandemic for people affected by blood cancer. This was to prove an important tool in making sure the Government and the NHS were considering the needs of our community. Then when it became clear that people with blood cancer were struggling to access supermarket delivery slots, we joined with other charities to campaign for them to get priority access.

Ensuring we are financially sustainable

As well as being a threat to our community, the coronavirus pandemic has represented a major challenge to us as an organisation. This is because:

  • most of the fundraising events we rely on for income were cancelled;
  • many of the people who usually fundraise for us are vulnerable to the coronavirus, and so have had to stay inside to a greater extent than the general population;
  • the economic impact of the pandemic may mean people have less money to give to charity.

As soon as the likely financial impact became clear, we looked to reduce our spending to ensure our financial position remained strong. This included the difficult decisions to reduce spending on research in the short term and to reduce the size of our organisation by about a third.

The decision to reduce our size meant losing many talented and hardworking members of staff, and it was particularly difficult given the amazing way our staff worked together to support people affected by blood cancer through the pandemic. But we carried out the restructure in line with our values: being open with staff throughout the process; carrying out extensive consultation and making significant changes as a result of staff feedback; and doing everything we could to support staff who were leaving to find new roles.

We are confident we now have a new structure that gives us the best possible chance both to continuing meeting the needs of people affected by blood cancer, and to start to increase our research spending as soon as possible.

We have also been a voice for the wider charity sector during the pandemic. We have been part of a campaign to support the medical research community given that charities have become less able to fund their research. We wrote an article for The Sunday Times urging the Government to financially support the charity sector, and we appeared in the broadcast media to make the case. A week later, the Government announced a £750 million fund to support the sector, and we received a £350,000 grant as part of this in 2020-21. We also received £99,000 from the Scottish Government.