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An announcement about Blood Cancer UK

23rd Jul 2020 - Gemma Peters

United Kingdom

The last few months have been perhaps the most difficult our community has ever faced.

People with blood cancer are at much higher risk from the coronavirus, and so have had to endure both the worry of catching it and the mental health challenges of having to shield from it. Our researchers have closed labs, lent equipment to the NHS and had to face up to the prospect that their life’s work has been set back years.

I could not be prouder of how the people working here at Blood Cancer UK have responded to this crisis. When demand for our support services soared beyond anything we’d planned for, people from right across our charity changed their jobs overnight to make sure we could support everyone who needed it. Others worked almost around the clock to keep our information up to date, and acted as the voice of our community to the NHS and the Government.

I know this work has made a massive difference. The most obvious demonstration of this was when a group of supporters invited all our staff to a Zoom call and surprised us with a video of people affected by blood cancer thanking us for what we’d done.

At the end of the video, it fell to me to say something on behalf of the staff, but I struggled to get my words out through the tears. They were tears of pride at being the leader of such an amazing group of people. But they were also tinged the sadness of knowing the devastating impact that the cancellation of fundraising events and the economic downturn were already having on our finances.

We did everything we could to reduce our costs as we faced a £6 million drop in income and the realisation that it may take another three years to return our income to last year’s level. We cut operational costs this year by £2 million and furloughed 40% of our staff as we tried to protect our research and support spend.

But none of this was enough, and so it became inevitable that we would face a difficult decision about the size and shape of our charity.

So today, I talked to the team here about a proposal to reduce the number of people we employ from 120 to 87.

It’s only a proposal at the moment, and over the next month I want to hear the thoughts of the team about how we can improve it. But it’s clear that we’ll lose a significant number of brilliant, dedicated, people. And this, together with having £1.8 million less to spend on research this year, means we’ll be able to do less for people with blood cancer in the short term.

Many of you will know people whose jobs are at risk personally, and you’ll feel gutted for them. You’ll also feel worried about the consequences of us reducing our research spending, and concerned about how we’ll come through the pandemic in a strong enough position to continue to play our role in beating blood cancer.

I feel all those things, too. I also worry that people will feel that it is a personal reflection on them, when the truth is that it’s absolutely not and that we wish there could have been another option.

Blood Cancer UK has led the UK fight against blood cancer for the last 60 years and while Covid has made that harder, it’s also made it even more vital. We know it will be harder for scientists to get research funding, that diagnoses will be even slower, and that some people will have a lower chance of surviving because of disruption to their treatment.

Given this backdrop, my job is to do everything I possibly can to make sure we emerge from this period strong and relentlessly focussed on our mission.

Stewarding us through the difficult months ahead is a serious responsibility. The story of how the Eastwoods started our charity to try to find a cure following the death of their daughter, Susan, isn’t just something I’ve read about. It’s something I feel deeply. I’m proud to count Susan’s sister, Sylvia, as a friend, and I know how determined she remains, 60 years on, that we finish the job her mum and dad started.

I also feel a responsibility to all of you who’ve donated or fundraised for us. Whether your contribution has been big or small, you’ve played your part in getting us to the point where the day we beat blood cancer is now in sight. You’ve all had different reasons for becoming involved, but you’re united by your determination that we stop lives being lost to this disease.

But the biggest responsibility I feel is to the 250,000 people living with blood cancer in the UK right now. And to the 40,000 who will be diagnosed next year, and the year after that. As great as the progress we’ve made, too many people are still dying. For these people and their families, their only hope is that research leads to a new treatment that saves their lives.

If, like me, you know too many families that have been devastated by blood cancer, you’ll share my determination to do whatever it takes for our charity to emerge from the pandemic able to increase our research spending as quickly as possible.

This determination has guided every decision contained in the proposals I presented to our staff today. I promise you that this same determination will guide everything I do in the coming months.

Yet I also know that our ability to rise to this challenge won’t just depend on me. It will depend on all of us.

Our charity became successful in the first place because we were able to harness the collective determination of a community of people who cared about beating blood cancer. Over the next couple of years, our ability to harness that collective determination will be more important than ever.

So let me finish with a plea.

If you care about beating blood cancer and as you read this you’re feeling worried about the future, then now is the time to do whatever you can to help.

It might be setting up a direct debit. It might be doing a bike ride, or writing to your MP, or starting a local group. Whatever it is, these are the sorts of individual actions that, together, will add up to the bigger whole that will get us through this.

That has been what we’ve done over the last 60 years as we’ve changed the world for people with blood cancer. And it’s what we’ll do over the next couple of years to keep alive our dream of beating blood cancer within the next generation.

Thank you.

Gemma Peters is chief executive of Blood Cancer UK