Children’s hospices ‘to shut if NHS does not increase funding’

Image caption

The Acorns hospice in Walsall opened in 1999

Children’s hospices in England will be forced to cut services or shut unless the NHS increases its funding, a charity has warned.

Together for Short Lives, which helps terminally ill children, highlighted a “dangerous cocktail” of higher costs and a drop in state funding.

Its report examined funding for 27 of the 34 children’s hospices in England.

But NHS England said funding for children’s end-of-life care is “going up every year”.

According to Together for Short Lives, children’s hospices in England each spend an average of £3.7m per year – which works out as a total annual spend across the country of £125m. Their spending has increased by 4.5% since 2016/17, it said.

But the percentage which the state contributes has fallen from 27% to 21% in five years, the report said – and hospices have been forced to use their reserve funds or stop services.

‘Shouldn’t depend on charity donations’

One of the hospices, Acorns in Walsall, West Midlands, has said it will have to close later this year unless it can raise more than £1.5m.

If it closed, it would mean more than 200 children would lose vital support or be forced to travel long distances, and 70 jobs would be lost.

Another hospice, Forget Me Not in West Yorkshire and north Manchester, said the lack of council and NHS funding “has a huge impact” on the care they can provide.

“We have two hospices: we cannot fully open our Bury hospice yet despite having amazing facilities and families desperate to access them because it receives no funding from the NHS,” said chief executive Luen Thompson.

“Our Huddersfield hospice receives less than 3% in statutory funding of the £4 million it needs to run.

“Our offer to families shouldn’t depend on how much we raise at a bucket collection or how much bric-a-brac we sell in one of our shops.”

The head of Together for Short Lives, Andy Fletcher, said the situation at Acorns could be “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“It is simply not sustainable to expect specialist children’s palliative care services provided by children’s hospices to be funded by charity reserves and the generosity of the public,” he said.

The charity wants the NHS to increase the Children’s Hospice Grant from £12m in 2019/20 to £25m per year.

Mr Fletcher also said NHS funding was “patchy”, with the research showing one hospice receiving 48% of its charitable expenditure from the state in the last financial year but another getting just 7%.

And one in six hospices said they had received no funding from their local clinical commissioning groups in 2018/19.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “NHS funding for children’s end of life care is going up every year and is set to more than double within the next five years, with up to £25m going in to care as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

“We are working with local health groups – including councils which of course have an important role to play in these services – and Together for Short Lives to provide the kind of support that children and their families want.”

The government has been approached for comment.

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