Children’s hospices face ‘dangerous cocktail’ of rising costs and patchy state funding

Children’s hospices in England are facing a “dangerous cocktail” of rising costs and a decline in state funding, a charity has said.

The long-term future of centres which support families with sick children is at risk without better investment in services, a new report by Together for Short Lives suggests.

The charity, which surveyed 27 children’s hospices in England, said funding across the country is “patchy” and warned that current arrangements are not sustainable.

One organisation – Acorns Children’s Hospice – has already proposed to close its Walsall branch (pictured), citing increasing costs and “economic uncertainty”.

Together for Short Lives is urging the NHS to protect its Children’s Hospice Grant and increase it from £12 million in 2019/20, to £25 million per year.

Andy Fletcher, chief executive of Together for Short Lives, said: “All children’s palliative care services, delivered in hospitals, children’s hospices and the community, need equitable and sustainable funding.

“However, children’s hospices in England are facing a dangerous cocktail of growing costs and declining, patchy NHS funding, which is putting their long-term future at risk.

“Acorns’ proposal to close one of its children’s hospices 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.”

The report, based on responses from 27 out 34 children’s hospices in England, estimates that annual charitable expenditure has increased by 4.5% since 2016/17, to an average of £3,681,442 per organisation.

However, it suggests the overall contribution to expenditure from state sources, including the NHS grant, local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), has dropped from 27% in 2013/14 to 21% in 2018/19.

Of the 27 hospices surveyed, 59% said a lower percentage of their charitable expenditure had been covered by statutory funding in 2018/19 compared to 2017/18.

The research also found wide variation in funding, with one survey respondent receiving 48% of its charitable expenditure from the state in the last financial year and another getting just 7%.

Overall, one in six (15%) said they has received no funding from their local CCGs in 2018/19.

Hospices said they have been forced to use reserve funds and stop services as a result of lower levels of funding, and short breaks for respite have also been cut.

Luen Thompson, chief executive of Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice, said increased NHS and local council funding would provide reassurance to families in need.

“The lack of NHS and local council funding has a huge impact on the care and support we are able to provide to the families who need it,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

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 £25 million 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.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Acorns Children’s Hospice.