An open letter from Sands Chief Executive Clea Harmer on the impact of Covid-19 and the steps the charity has taken to secure its future.
So many things have changed for all of us since the start of the Covid-19 crisis – both as individuals and as a wider society. Amongst other things we have changed the way we interact with others, the way we learn, and the way we work. I am acutely aware of the impact that this has had on Sands and on all those that we support and work with.
At the heart of what we do is the tragedy and devastation that follows the death of a baby. What we do is all about people, and it is the interactions with people that have been so badly affected during this crisis.
There is no doubt that this has been a very challenging time for Sands, but we are not alone in facing both the increase in demand for services, a 30% rise in contacts with our bereavement support services for example, while at the same time seeing income fall by a third. In fact, this difficult pairing has been a hallmark of the crisis for many charities.
The steps taken to protect the NHS at the start of the crisis and to stop the spread of the virus have had a significant impact on both bereavement and maternity care, but also on our everyday lives.
We have continued our vital work to support all those who have suffered the death of a baby, either during or before crisis, and for whom grief and bereavement have felt overwhelming. We have also worked to support those pregnant again after the death of a baby, who have faced unimaginable fear and anxiety.
In direct response to the crisis, Sands’ work to support the NHS has been crucial in improving care for parents and families, with many healthcare professionals accessing our webinars, resources and a bi-monthly bulletin. We have focused on collating the experiences shared by parents and healthcare professionals, feeding these back to both government and NHS to ensure changes are made to improve safety and care.
Only this week we were delighted to hear that new guidance from NHS England means that partners of pregnant women in England can again accompany them to scans and appointments and visit them in hospital. Parents and professionals told us this was a big concern during the pandemic and we are now asking Trusts to implement this guidance as soon as they can; no one should ever have to be on their own when hearing the devastating news that their baby has died.
We have also launched a Bereavement in the Workplace consultancy service to help employers to support staff who have experienced a bereavement; building awareness amongst management about the impact of pregnancy loss and the death of a baby, and having policies and procedures in place to support staff returning to work.
But amidst all these challenges we have had a key advantage; in times of crisis it is essential to have a Pole Star to steer by and our inspirational vision has provided that light and direction. From the beginning we knew we had a crucial role to play providing information, support and care for all those that needed it and we were able to act quickly and decisively to adapt the way we did this.
Of course, none of this would be possible without income for what is immediately necessary, but also to ensure Sands survives into the future. We have adapted our fundraising – creating virtual and digital opportunities, focusing on new income streams – but along with many other charities we are still facing a considerable drop in income.
It is crucial that we make the right decisions now to secure the future of Sands and one of these decisions must be to contract the charity in size now so we can grow again in the future.
This is a difficult decision on so many levels; there is the undoubted human cost to all those passionate and committed staff who must sadly now leave us, and there is the need to postpone some of our ambitious plans.
But in our restructuring and redundancies we have been guided by our values and have focused on being compassionate, collaborative and evidence-based throughout the process. Above all we have focused on contracting in a way that still allows us to deliver on all three of our core aims in as efficient and effective way as possible.
Throughout the crisis we have adapted and responded to increasing demand, we have demonstrated our relevance and there is no doubt that we have had significant impact. I am absolutely confident that not only will we be able to continue to do all of these things going forward, but that we will also be able to increase our reach and scope by building our digital capability and structuring ourselves in as effective a way as we can.
The work that we do at Sands is absolutely crucial and we will continue to be there for all those who need us both now and into the future. What makes Sands special and unique are the wonderful and inspiring people; the bereaved parents and families who we are able to support, the healthcare professionals we train, the fundraisers and the campaigners; our volunteers and our staff.
Sands is made up of so many amazing people. It is their dedication and support that will ultimately allow us to come through this crisis stronger and better; ready and able to build and grow in the future.
Thank you for your wonderful support – we are here for all of you, but we know that you are also there for us and that together we will continue to make a difference for all those that need it.
Chief Executive, Sands