Our Response to the Pandemic by Rob Murray, CEO

Each and every one of us is facing enormous challenges that we never expected, nor wanted, and how we respond to those challenges is crucial.

We are living in uncertain times caused by a global pandemic however one thing is clear: the need for Cancer Support Scotland has never been stronger. We are supporting more people than ever and in our 40th year that provides me with comfort for our future.

On 16th March 2020 I took the very difficult decision to suspend our face-to-face services. In doing so I knew that many people affected by cancer across Scotland would struggle with increasing pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety and discomfort and it was not a decision taken lightly. However, given the pandemic, it was one we needed to make to protect the safety of our staff, volunteers and those we support.

Since then, I have been incredibly proud of the commitment of our team. The whole staff team at Cancer Support Scotland have worked exceptionally hard to respond proactively to the crisis, ensuring we can support those affected by cancer with alternative service offerings and I want to take a moment to acknowledge what we have been doing.


Our counsellors have been delivering appointments by telephone and video.  Our focus is on ensuring no person is left to struggle alone with the strain of cancer because of circumstances outside their control. Our (currently paused) outreach service is underpinned by the knowledge that receiving wellbeing support outside of clinical settings, close to home and in a familiar environment is crucially important. Digital counselling allows us, not only to fill the temporary gap of our face-to-face support, but to take that same premise a step further. I am delighted with the progress we have made with our counselling service and am pleased to report that waiting lists have been dramatically cut to under a week. This is remarkable considering the number of counselling appointments we have delivered has increased by 23% during the period 18th March – 20th July 2020 compared to the same period last year.

‘Here for You’ Wellbeing Calls

We are offering a weekly wellbeing call to everyone who would have been using any of our in-person services to help alleviate stress, anxiety and fear, ensure a regular point of contact, reduce feelings of isolation and to reassure people that we are still here for them. We are also maintaining contact and support through email and text message, reaching over 5,000 people and ensuring we guide towards our other resources including, wherever necessary, external crisis support. The service is being warmly received and serving as a core, reliable source of support and social contact for many people during this uncertain period. Recognising that counselling is not the best option for everyone, it is essential that we can offer this alternative option of informal emotional support.

Online Tools

Our expert Wellbeing Team have produced a number of online resources including audio clips for guided relaxation and visualisation, step-by-step breathing exercises, advice on managing stress and anxiety and self-care tools. These are available on our website, accessible to anyone at no cost and without registration of any kind, to ensure as many people can benefit as possible. Our audio clips have already been listened to over 1,000 times through our SoundCloud and our self-care page has received over 10,000 hits. With limited distractions available during isolation, our resources help people to cope independently with their feelings, at any time of the day or week. We are in the process of developing more interactive resources and videos to enhance these toolkits for those coping with cancer.

Virtual Stress Management

Our Wellbeing Facilitators were due to launch a newly refreshed stress management programme in early April, delivering 5-week courses for groups of up to 20 people. Within two weeks, the programme was transformed into virtual workshops, meaning people could still receive peer group support throughout this time with resources made available online to those accessing the course after the relevant workshop has been delivered. The workshops have been hugely successful and we have run 6 so far including specific workshops for carers. I have enjoyed sitting in on the workshops and some of the feedback I heard included:

“Having just finished active treatment for breast cancer I felt so frustrated that my rehabilitation time was not going to be the way I had imagined.


I am so grateful that Cancer Support Scotland have put together this stress management course and are running it through zoom. This course has come just at the right time, especially with COVID19 as my anxiety levels have been worse.”

The Wellbeing Sessions

We launched the Wellbeing Sessions, a series of Live Question & Answer events exploring the issues and questions those affected by cancer are experiencing during these difficult times. The sessions are open to the public and have been hosted by our Ambassador Laura Boyd. The three videos combined have had a reach of over 35,000 impressions over YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Our first session was held with the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, on the 4th of May. A recording of the video can be found here.

Our second session was held with the Scottish Government’s Interim Principal Medical Officer for Psychiatry, Dr John Mitchell, on the 21st of May. A recording can be found here.

Our third session was held with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport, Jeane Freeman, on the 9th of July. This was a roaring success and the video can be found here.

Our Future

Cancer Support Scotland needs to ensure we are sustainable. The pandemic has hit the charity hard, like many other charities and sectors. Our income is projected to fall by around 35% meaning we have had to think about our expenditure during this year and future years.

Community groups, corporate support and events make up much of our income sources. As the pandemic has changed how we interact, these areas of fundraising are currently paused and will be for the foreseeable future. The team and I are pursuing all available avenues of funding and opportunities however this is increasingly difficult.

In order to ensure we are sustainable, able to face the challenging financial climate ahead, and can continue to deliver high quality wellbeing support to those affected by cancer, we have therefore restructured the charity.

This was a challenging decision however as a charity, up until this crisis, we depended fully on the generosity of the Scottish public and charitable donations. We don’t receive NHS funding and, with the exception of recent Scottish Government emergency funding for COVID19, we don’t receive Scottish Government funding.

Given the high proportion of immunocompromised people we support, we recognise that many people will be unable to attend or uncomfortable with resuming face-to-face services even after restrictions are lifted. With support to build capacity into our newly created digital service we can ensure we can continue to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable people for whom physically-based services are unsuitable both during, and after, the crisis. By strengthening our capacity now, we will also be better placed to support those affected by cancer who prefer digital options in the future for any reason.

Therefore, for the remainder of the year we will continue to focus on: Counselling (Digital / Telephone), Stress Management, Self Help Tools, ‘Here for You’ Wellbeing Calls & our Wellbeing Sessions. This does mean that we have taken the very difficult decision that our Complementary Therapy & Podiatry services will not be returning this year.

In line with this, our restructure means we are sadly saying goodbye to 10 highly valued members of our team. Those affected cover the length and breadth of the organisation. As part of the restructure there are two vacancies within Fundraising and Communications which remain unfilled post restructure consultation and we will be working to fill these roles in line with budget.

I understand this will be disappointing for many. However with the need to ensure our sustainability for the future, and the risks being too high to re-introduce these physical face-to-face services, especially for those with cancer, I believe we have taken the responsible course of action by putting safety first.

Thank you for taking the time today to read this article. Please do look after yourself. Cancer Support Scotland is still providing high quality wellbeing care however we do need your support more than ever. If you can support us financially please click here or, if you would like to discuss how you could support us, please call 0800 652 4531.


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