COVID-19: Brook’s agile response requires urgent Government support

Brook’s Chief Executive, Helen Marshall, celebrates the rapid response of Brook staff and calls for a better support package for third sector frontline services at this critical time.

In this time of uncertainty, Brook’s workforce has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with speed and agility to ensure that those who need us most can still access our sexual health services. Not only does Brook provide a lifeline, we play a vital part in reducing the burden on the NHS. With GPs surgeries overwhelmed and many sexual health services now closed, our staff has stepped up in unison to truly deliver on Brook’s values – trailblazing, courageous, collaborative and trustworthy.

The turbulence of the last couple of weeks has been unprecedented. To protect the health and wellbeing of our staff and service users, we quickly adapted by moving to appointment-only in our clinics and extending our phone triaging capacity. Vitally, this allows us to protect valuable appointment time for those who are most vulnerable and at risk.

As with all frontline services, managing our delivery with reduced staffing levels has been challenging. The closure of schools has meant our nationwide education team is unable to deliver essential support to young people and, as a result, we are no longer able to promote our education programmes. This has huge implications on our income.

However, I am proud that the response of our staff has been beyond all expectations and capacity! In several locations, we have rapidly mobilised digital services, enabling online orders of testing kits and contraception. As lockdown kicked in and public buildings closed, our outreach teams followed suit in finding innovative ways to deliver.

Our amazing education team is now supporting clinical colleagues on the frontline, while also working with our digital and communications team to develop additional online content for young people who will undoubtedly be spending more time online.

We will ensure that those who have missed essential RSHE lessons can still access trusted information. We are also developing bespoke communications to parents, so they can have open conversations with young people who have missed these lessons. 

Thanks to our agile contingency planning and committed staff, we have been able to mitigate some of the risks that this national emergency has inevitably presented for young people and our service users. However, this has come at a cost. As well as impacting our income, we’ve quickly implemented additional services – exceeding our budgets and resource.

We know we are not alone; all charities are struggling to maintain crucial frontline services for those most vulnerable. While we welcome the decisive support the government has introduced for businesses, PAYE employees and the self-employed, the voluntary sector is still waiting for clarity of any support.

We back the call from NCVO, ACEVO, IFO, CFG and others for the government to introduce an emergency package of support for the voluntary sector including: 

  • A mobilisation fund for frontline charities and volunteers supporting the response to the coronavirus crisis especially where they are reducing the pressure on our healthcare services, but also providing much needed social support
  • A stabilisation fund for all charities to help them stay afloat, pay staff and continue operating during the course of the pandemic.
  • Confirmation that charities should be eligible for similar business interruption measures announced by the chancellor for businesses – and helping them understand that furloughing charity staff is in some cases the opposite of what we now need to do.

NCVO has forecast the sector will face £4.3 billion loss of income over the next 12 weeks. This includes services like ours, across the country, who are playing a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19. 

Although the challenges we face are evolving day-to-day, we have not lost sight of the importance of safely delivering these vital services. Our staff continue to go above and beyond, operating in an increasingly uncertain climate to support those that need us now more than ever. 

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