How charities have helped hospitals navigate Covid-19

By Laurence Eastham, CA Magazine

Hayley Pannick CA, Director of Development at Imperial Health Charity, tells Laurence Eastham how charities have helped hospitals navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and why public goodwill for the NHS can be channelled into action.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought people together like never before, even as it kept us apart. Although we couldn’t physically visit friends and family for many weeks, the nation united in adopting social distancing and lockdown measures for the greater good. This unity and spirit of cooperation was also present in displays of support for the NHS. From 750,000 signing up as volunteer responders to mass clapping outside homes every Thursday, people celebrated health workers as one. National pride in the NHS has never been greater.

As Director of Development for Imperial Health Charity (IHC), Hayley Pannick CA is more aware than most of the needs of the NHS, both pre and post pandemic. IHC is an official partner of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, one of the UK’s largest, and helps to raise money for its five hospitals: Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea, St Mary’s and Western Eye. The charity operates on the principle of “additionality”, as Pannick describes: “We exist to help the hospitals do more. We aren’t here to replace NHS funding – what we do is meant to be over and above what the NHS already provides.”

The underlying ethos of the charity translates into an astounding variety of activities in practice. IHC organises fundraising appeals, manages 500 onsite volunteers, runs arts programmes and awards grants to fund redevelopments, research and equipment. “The work is pretty varied. We work really closely with the trust and their staff to help identify where the need is greatest,” Pannick explains. “We’ve done some wonderful things to improve hospital environments, and had fantastic feedback from patients and staff about what it does to improve their experience of being in hospital.”

One of the charity’s ongoing projects is the Tremor Lifeline Appeal. By the end of 2020, IHC aims to raise £1.5m to fund the redevelopment of the imaging unit at St Mary’s, including the installation of a specialised MRI scanner, use of which will allow those living with essential tremor, around one million people in the UK, to undergo a single non-invasive treatment instead of risky surgery. When the appeal is completed, St Mary’s will be the only hospital in the UK able to offer this pioneering treatment.

Crisis call

Much of IHC’s work has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the needs of the NHS dramatically changed, the charity adapted its activities to provide the most relevant forms of support. Pannick details the shift: “We’ve seen a huge amount of change because the charity has had to focus so substantially on supporting our hospitals through the pandemic. A lot of our work went on pause, partly due to resources but also to support the logistics side of things – we were needed to be on hand and not just to raise funds.

“Food outlets around hospitals closed down when lockdown happened. Food provision in our hospitals isn’t that strong – St Mary’s, for example, has no onsite canteen. We’ve been working with community supporters and donors to get meals brought into hospitals and using our onsite teams to get them delivered around these huge buildings. By late June, we’d delivered more than 170,000 meals. We’ve also been running free welfare shops at our three main sites, which have been visited 100,000 times by staff to get snacks and supplies to keep them going.”

IHC has also made video calls possible across the trust’s hospitals with the installation of enhanced wi-fi, helping staff and patients alike to tackle the effects of isolation. The charity has bolstered this improved connectivity by funding the purchase of tablet devices, giving patients the means to keep in touch with loved ones who were unable to visit due to lockdown restrictions. Elsewhere, much of the arts programme has gone virtual, and new break rooms have been opened to help maintain staff wellbeing at such a stressful time – an important achievement as hospital space is often at a premium.

These achievements did not come without challenges. Many of IHC’s 500 volunteers belong to at-risk groups, so had to withdraw from onsite assistance as soon as the pandemic escalated. Rebuilding the volunteer programme from scratch – and at speed – to best complement healthcare’s new normal was a huge undertaking.

“We went from having well over 500 volunteers to briefly having no volunteer delivery to having 350 largely new volunteers participating in the emergency onsite response. It’s been intense for everybody. People have had to flex their roles a lot to get things done,” Pannick recalls of March and April. “We have a really rigorous process for checking all of our volunteers, making sure they’ve gone through training and DBS checks before they’re in the hospital environment. All of that had to be done at great pace.”

Tightening the belts

It’s no surprise to hear from Pannick that the level of interest in volunteering has been phenomenal. The national outpouring of gratitude for the NHS and its employees has given healthcare charities in the UK a platform that is perhaps unprecedented. An urgent appeal launched by IHC at the beginning of the pandemic, the Covid-19 Relief Fund, had topped £2.5m in donations from the public at the time of writing.

“We had a strong start in terms of fundraising because the NHS has been in the spotlight and because local communities and people nationally wanted to do so much for the NHS. This is different to what many other charities, and much larger ones, will have seen,” says Pannick.

With the post-pandemic economic recession looming, Pannick expects charities in all sectors to experience new financial challenges as purse strings are tightened by individuals and companies alike: “I expect to see an impact on our fundraising income this financial year and beyond. We have seen some remarkable generosity in the early part of this year, but charities are seeing that start to taper off and we will be no exception.

“Corporate giving may be more restricted, with a focus on staff giving their time rather than financial support. If trusts and foundations see their funds under investment affected, they may reconsider their strategy for giving that year and reduce the value of gifts made. However, there is a strong philanthropic culture in the UK, and people are moved to help others in need even in difficult economic times. The organisations that have built strong relationships will have the best chance of support remaining in place.”

It’s a challenge Pannick is confident IHC will meet. It has already been trialling new forms of fundraising online, and continues to liaise directly with the trust to identify the greatest areas of need. As the health sector shifts from the emergency stage of Covid-19 to living and working with the virus longer term, Pannick is now able to think about the future.

“We’re due to start reviewing our strategy shortly. Over the last few months, we’ve just been working day to day to ensure we provided support to our NHS colleagues to help to get them through the crisis. It’s only now we have the space to consider what the future will look like,” she explains.

“Over the next couple of years, we plan to work more closely with the trust to identify strategic funding priorities, support our grantees with better evaluation, extend our art engagement activities into new clinical areas, develop new volunteer roles and build our supporter base to reach even more people. We will also need to re-evaluate how we deliver our work in light of the pandemic and any subsequent restrictions.”

Finding purpose

Working in the charity sector was a happy accident for Pannick. She had joined EY as a graduate in 2003, a “natural step” after completing a finance and economics degree at the University of Manchester, but Pannick already knew it wasn’t for the long term. “I was there for around five years, developing my career, but I wasn’t aspiring to make partner,” she remembers. “I really enjoyed my graduate years at EY, but I was looking for something else.”

That “something else” began to take shape during six months working for one of EY’s external partners, the Prince’s Trust. Pannick credits the secondment, which would become a five-year spell at the charity, with permanently altering her career path: “I joined to conduct a piece of strategy work for them and, towards the end of my time, was offered a role in the corporate fundraising team. I loved it, and I’ve stayed on this career trajectory ever since. That opportunity opened up this completely new world to me.”

Having discovered her passion for the third sector at the Prince’s Trust, Pannick settled on healthcare as the area in which she would eventually specialise. The decision was personal for Pannick – both her husband and father are doctors – as well as being motivated by her belief that “this was an area where I could really make a difference”. She left the Prince’s Trust in 2014 and spent four years as Head of Philanthropy at Alzheimer’s Society prior to joining IHC in 2018.

Although she has taken a different path to many of her fellow graduates, she says the training she received at EY, including qualifying as a CA in 2006, is what made it all possible. “I’m grateful for the grounding I got at EY – it equipped me with a lot of the skills that I would need in this career,” she adds. “The CA qualification helps enormously in my role. It’s important to be numerate and have an understanding of your budget, ROI and forecasting – especially as you have to be really judicious with charity spending. When you’re in leadership, it’s expected that you can handle that kind of financial information.”

Pannick and IHC are now concentrating on helping the trust’s hospitals transition from the emergency footing to living with the virus long term. Readers can help by visiting IHC’s website below or via the Covid-19 Relief Fund donation page on JustGiving.

Hayley’s career

  • Education: Studied international business, finance and economics, University of Manchester.
  • 2003: Joins EY’s graduate programme.
  • 2006: Qualifies as a CA.
  • 2009: Recruited to the Prince’s Trust as Head of Corporate Partnerships, becoming Head of Philanthropy in 2013.
  • 2014: Joins Alzheimer’s Society as Head of Philanthropy.
  • 2018: Becomes Director of Development at Imperial Health Charity.


This article first appeared in CA magazine:!cover