Charities during the pandemic: 5 observations from healthcare professionals

Medial staff holding a white facemask and a black statoscope

Charities during the pandemic: 5 observations from healthcare professionals

Following their uphill battle responding to Covid-19, we asked UK healthcare professionals about how effectively they worked alongside charities during the pandemic. This week, we dive into their responses and explore the massive potential of these collaborations, as well as the obstacles in getting them off the ground.

Ben Roberts

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen charities tried and tested on all sides. Dwindling donations, lack of access to staff, and inability to help the public in person have proved to be major challenges to just about every organisation, and the shifts we’ve been seeing in younger generations towards taking direct action has added some uncertainty to the future of charity fundraising. Health charities in particular have seen huge obstacles in delivering their services during lockdown. 

To get a feel for how these charities fared during the height of the pandemic, we asked UK healthcare professionals (HCPs) (GPs, GPs with commissioning roles, community nurses and nurses based in a GP practice) for their insights into how it felt working alongside these charities on the Covid frontlines. 

1. Health workers were keen to work alongside charities 

It’s no secret that Covid-19 has affected the day-to-day work of healthcare professionals, with 68% admitting to seeing a backlog in their workload in 2020 as a result. It makes sense therefore that these same professionals would have liked to incorporate additional resources and support into their caregiving, involving organisations that provide crucial support to the burdened health service and the public. But were these resources available? As one GP told us, “Access to medical secondary care support has been limited due to COVID”, a sentiment that’s unfortunately widespread in this sector. 

In fact, 75% of HCPs we surveyed say that they saw the potential of developing closer working relationships with charity organisations during this period. This demonstrates an enormous possibility for collaboration with health charities in the future if these connections can be bolstered. 

On top of this, the majority of HCPs see a benefit in charities getting involved in influencing policy. 59% of those we surveyed told us that they want to see third sector organisations actively campaigning to challenge health policies, another indication of the potential they see in collaboration.

2. Perceptions of charities’ Covid-19 response leaves something to be desired 

It’s clear that healthcare professionals could see the potential of charity collaboration during the 2020 lockdown, with half of those we surveyed stating that they saw the importance of these organisations in providing emotional support to the public, and 41% seeing charities as a significant source of Covid-19 information and advice. 

But, there’s no way around it: many HCPs weren’t particularly amazed by how the charity sector dealt with the pandemic in 2020. When we asked HCPs to name organisations that had impressed them in their Covid-19 response, 44% couldn’t think of a single organisation worth mentioning. This makes it worth exploring why such a drop-off exists between the desire to collaborate during this time, and the poor perceptions of the sector’s actual effectiveness.

3. The visibility of charities has been limiting 

So, what has been standing in the way of better collaboration? The consensus is that visibility has been too low. When asked how charities could work more effectively with HCPs, the overwhelming feedback regarded clear communication and advertising as the key issues. Among the most common responses were for charities to “advertise products”, to improve the “clarity of services”, and provide “more awareness of local services”, further demonstrating the need for organisations to better differentiate their brands. Moreover, one recommendation summed up a lot in two words: “contact us”. Organisations have to continue to reach out and interact directly with HCPs if they want to be effective. 

It may not be as simple as picking up the phone and getting in touch, however. Over the pandemic, it seems that HCPs were keen to see charities provide more concrete evidence of the help they can provide. One GP went as far as saying that they wanted “More communication … with clear information,” while another wanted charities to “Make clear what they can offer and the benefits of working with them - ideally with some data to support.” This desire to see proof of efficacy would be well considered by any charity when outreach is underway.

4. HCPs understand the limitations charities have faced 

Despite the problems that HCPs have identified within charity organisations, it doesn’t seem that there’s a lack of sympathy; many of the individuals that we spoke to recognised the challenges that charities have been facing and how visibility has been hard to garner. 

“It's difficult due to increased demand and limited resources - they largely do their best at present”, one GP told us, while a practice nurse told us that “with Covid pressures it’s a difficult climate at the moment” for these organisations.  

The nature of the pandemic was that, just the same as the HCPs, most organisations were left time poor and relying on shoestring budgets and furloughed team members while, in many cases, they faced increased demand for their services. As such, charities were required to pivot their resources, and it’s worthwhile to note that medical professionals were aware that the difficulties of the past few years were largely to blame for charities’ perceived lack of outreach and resources. And in turn, their sympathy and understanding of these turbulent circumstances did prompt some to offer some actionable advice… 

5. Modernisation and adaptability are key 

Within our report, we found again and again that HCPs were keen on seeing charities update and modernise. For instance, a GP praised Cancer Research UK, saying that “They were able to provide support virtually to cancer patients during the pandemic”, while another were impressed with Age Concern who “Helped to teach elderly to use tablets/mobiles so that they can communicate with their loved ones during the pandemic.”​ 

Seeing charities use technology in their public service delivery has been important to HCPs, but they’ve also wanted to see these organisations adapt interactions on the professional side too. One practice nurse was impressed by “Good online tools for both HCP and patients,” while a GP highlighted that they wanted to see “services that are easy to access and do not need elaborate referral processes.” Streamlining digital processes such as this could be one of the keys to improving collaboration, removing roadblocks that make the experience unwieldy.  


While the data suggests that HCPs saw room for improvement in 2020, there is evidence that their relationships with charities have improved. By summer 2021, only 14% of healthcare professions we surveyed didn’t name a specific charity they’d been impressed with in the six months prior: both a sign that charities had adapted and recovered well in this short period, and a testament to the incredible resilience of the sector.  

If you would like to hear more about our research with healthcare professionals, please get in touch at 

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