COVID-19: “We’re having to rebuild and adapt because of coronavirus”


Credit: Imperial science imagery

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used far too much over the past few months. But that’s exactly what this time has been. This pandemic is a chapter in our personal and working lives that will live with us for a very long time.

The same is true for our charity. Cancer Research UK has been through world wars, recession and other periods of major disruption. We remain – as always – focused on beating cancer and I want to thank everyone who has supported us through this time.

But despite all your amazing work, COVID-19 has placed a huge strain on our income and we’ve had to change our plans for the next few years to adapt to a changed world.

We’re having to scale down our work to reflect our new situation, but our ambition remains that same. And our new plan aims to ensure that Cancer Research UK is, and will stay, at the forefront of the global fight against cancer. It will help us to focus on the areas that will make the biggest impact for people affected by cancer and realise our ambition to improve cancer survival to 3 in 4 by 2034.

What impact has the pandemic had on Cancer Research UK?

COVID-19 threatens to severely impact our cancer research and make our ambition of improving cancer survival to 3 in 4 by 2034 more difficult. We’ve written extensively about the impact of the pandemic on people with cancer, the NHS and clinical trials.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also hit our fundraising hard – along with many others. We’re predicting a drop in income of £160 million this year, which is 30% of our income. Over the next three years we expect to lose £300 million.

Our response

We took immediate and decisive action in response, including moving all of our staff to 80% pay, furloughing 60% of staff and cutting £44m from our research. These actions saved us money, but critically they bought us time to develop the longer-term response which is essential to secure our future.

We’ve now finalised our plan for the next three years and agreed it with our trustees. Because of how COVID-19 has hit our income, we will have a lot less to spend on beating cancer, and we’ll have to cut our spend in many other areas – sadly, including by reducing the number of people in our team.

Cuts to research

Cuts to our life saving research are difficult, but sadly unavoidable. We plan to introduce a new research model, moving towards a lower level of funding of £250m a year within four to five years – a cut of £150m from what we had planned to spend.

It’s sadly inevitable that these cuts will deal a significant blow to our ambitions and will slow progress as we make fewer discoveries, fund fewer trials and produce fewer therapeutic and diagnostic innovations to help patients everywhere.

But this cut would very much be a worst-case scenario. We are doing absolutely everything in our power to find more financial support, and are working tirelessly to urge the Government to support our life-saving research.

We’ll also phase our reductions carefully, so that we can minimise the disruption on our life-saving research, and we’ll make sure that the model is flexible. This is so that if we are successful in securing additional funding, we can spend more.

Cuts to other areas too

Of course, we will also be reducing our expenditure right across the charity too, so we can keep to our high standard of ensuring at least 80p in every £1 raised is available to spend on beating cancer.

This means we’ll stop some programmes of work, reduce the amount or scope of other activities, and be the most efficient charity we can be – leading the charity sector in making best use of our resources. We’ll do less, but what we’ll do will be of the highest quality.

Sadly, this will mean reducing the number of people in our team. We will be reducing our staff by 500 roles, which is roughly a quarter (24%) of our workforce, excluding trading (our Cancer Research UK stores).

We’re the charity we are because of our brilliant people, and so it will be very difficult to see people leave.

We’re at the start of this process now, and we’ll know more about specific changes in the coming months. But we’re clear that while we’re scaling back, we’ll continue to make progress for people affected by cancer in three key areas – through our world-leading research, our sector-leading policy and influencing work, and through providing personalised cancer information.

Our future

There is a lot about the future beyond COVID-19 which is uncertain. But despite the challenges we face, we won’t give up. I believe completely in the power and potential of the charity – our brilliant staff, world-leading researchers, dedicated volunteers and supporters – to beat cancer.

We’ll still be the largest charitable funder of cancer research in the world, spending £1 billion on our mission to beat cancer over the next 3 years. We will still be the most influential UK charity. We’ll continue to fund the very best scientists in the UK and around the world.

But I also know we can’t do it alone. We need your support more than ever so that together, we will still beat cancer.

Michelle Mitchell is our chief executive

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