Opinion

Charitable hospices are facing serious long-term financial challenges

Tracey Bleakley , Chief Executive, Hospice UK

This has been a hugely challenging year for the UK’s charitable hospices and perhaps the most difficult since Dame Cicely Saunders – founder of the hospice movement – first opened St Christopher’s in 1967.

I visit hospices up and down the country every week and have seen first-hand that many are facing tough times and really struggling financially.  In many ways what we are seeing is a perfect storm for hospices as a number of developments come together to threaten their future.

Charitable hospices have to raise around two thirds of their income largely from their local communities – which amounts to a £1billion collectively each year.  Much of this income relies on the generosity of hospice supporters- from fundraising activities like bake sales and challenge events to hospice charity shops and legacies.  However, factors such as the impact of Brexit and difficult trading conditions on the high street are putting the squeeze on these sources of funding.

In addition, the level of funding that hospices get from the NHS (on average a third of their income) is not keeping pace with rising costs and increasing demand as highlighted in an earlier survey by Hospice UK on hospice funding.

This year we have started to see the impact of these challenges on hospice services.  In January St Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow had to make the heart-breaking decision to close after 30 years because of its serious financial difficulties.

Since then Grace’s Place in Bury, despite tremendous goodwill and support from its local community, also had to shut its doors as the spiralling costs of providing high quality care outstripped the funds they were able to raise.

Other children’s hospices such as Zoe’s Place in Liverpool and Shooting Star Children’s Hospices in the south east, said earlier they may have to reduce some respite care services because of financial pressures.  This all comes when demand for the vital care that hospices provide is rocketing.

In October hospices across the UK will be holding events and activities to mark Hospice Care Week which aims to increase public awareness about the vital care they provide to people with life-limiting conditions and their families.

This year it will focus on the diverse and often under-looked range of staff, skills, and resources needed to make hospice care happen.

It will also highlight the extraordinary diversity of ways that hospices fund their care- from coffee mornings to Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) contracts.

At Hospice UK we are very concerned about what the financial outlook for charitable hospices could mean for the people who rely on their services.

Since last year we have repeatedly called for extra Government funding for hospices and palliative care services. In August it responded to our 18-month campaign with a much-needed, timely £25 million funding boost in England.

While this was an important first step, we made clear that this will not be a panacea for the pressures facing the sector.

To tackle this effectively we urgently need a more sustainable funding model for end of life care as a whole, including hospices.

Hospice UK is exploring a range of solutions on the long-term funding people’s end of life care needs for hospices and other community services.

Hospices are a vital part of the care system for terminally ill and dying people and also have an important role in supporting other care providers.

For example, providing training for care home staff and working with hospitals to ensure that people approaching the end of life are able to die in their own home.

Our society is fast changing, with more people living for much longer, often with more complex care needs.

There is more pressure on our care providers than ever before.

Without tackling how people’s end of life care needs will be met in the long-term, the quality of care for our loved ones will be poorer, and if things continue as they are in some areas, is in danger of not being there at all.

More information about the national hospice and palliative care charity is available here on its website

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