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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Step forward for health charities

The repercussions of COVID-19 will continue to have an impact long after some form of normality returns

We all recognise that health charities do invaluable work in the specialities they represent. However, like a lot of things, it sometimes takes first-hand experience to really understand the true breadth and depth of their importance within health systems. For me, that lightbulb moment came during the last few days of my mother’s life which, although a terrible time, was made so much easier emotionally and practically for us all due to the home bedside presence of a Macmillan Nurse. Health charities help provide those living with medical challenges the hope for a better future through research, the information and understanding to navigate their future, the emotional and practical support to live life to the fullest and a voice to ensure they receive the best and indiscriminate health and care services and maintain their everyday rights in society. They often deliver this activity as healthcare providers themselves or in partnership or alongside other providers or health-related organisations. Health charities are therefore multifaceted, with an essential presence throughout our health economies. As not-for-profits, fundraising is clearly a foundation for their work, but that funding goes much further due to the army of volunteers (organisations and individuals) that provide their support. As pharmaceutical research, medical affairs, marketing and communications professionals, our skills can add great value to health charities when volunteered, perhaps providing a charity with new skills or perspectives, specialist knowledge or just handson-deck support from attuned individuals.

Facilitating connections

Connecting willing volunteers from our sector with the charities that might benefit was something the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA), in discussion with members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), recognised would be good to catalyse. To facilitate a common online ‘meeting place’, we therefore set about creating – then the pandemic struck.


The impact of the pandemic has brought challenging times for everybody, but especially for health charities, for whom it has been a double-whammy, potentially decimating their fundraising income at a time when, like all organisations, they have needed to radically adapt and continue to fulfil their essential roles. A survey published at the end of March suggested UK charities projected a loss of 48% to their voluntary income, with 43% reporting an increase in demand for their services. Government support will not make up anything like this shortfall. And for those helping to fund research, there is also the real concern that this too could be significantly set back at best, or that previous hard work and expenditure could be wasted due to study interruptions or terminations.

The necessity to furlough staff within the charity sector has been significant. This means the resource of people available to deal with the challenges of adapting, let alone the day-to-day, is minimal. Yet the needs of those represented by these charities have not changed and, in some cases, will have significantly increased due to the pandemic.

Those of us working in the healthcare sector all recognise that there probably won’t be a quick fix anytime soon, and the repercussions for health charities will continue to have an impact long after we all start getting back to some form of normality.

We’re all in this together

With health charities playing such a critical role in our healthcare systems, never before have our futures been so intrinsically linked. All those working in this space, reading PME, need to therefore consider what we can do to help support these organisations to ensure they remain able to continue their work long after we have all been vaccinated. Donations will help, of course. If we are in the position to spare some money, now more than ever it will make a big difference. But what about the time and professional skills you or your organisation could offer? Strategic thinking and tactical support will both be of value. Even if you are unfortunately furloughed or are experiencing reduced work volume, could you volunteer your time and skills to a charity that could benefit from them? The experience, insights and self-esteem gained may also enrich your own capabilities when things pick up again. is just one option when looking for charities that need your services – there are many other local and national organisations that you could approach. You don’t need to just focus on the medical areas you specialise in, you could also consider those charities that work in areas that perhaps don’t have therapeutic solutions available.

Many people rely daily on the help they receive from health charities. Now, more than ever, those same health charities need our help. So please consider volunteering your time and skills.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and a communications consultant

2nd July 2020


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