Hospices ‘Face Funding Struggle’

Hospices are struggling with debts as funding promised by the government has failed to materialise, campaigners say.

More than one in four hospices is now in deficit, a study of 186 of the UK’s 194 charitable hospices showed.

It comes after the government promised in its 2005 manifesto that funding for palliative care would be doubled.

But the Help the Hospices charity said charity hospice money had remained largely static. The government said funding was now being looked at.

Two thirds of the hospices in England are run by the voluntary sector, providing valuable palliative and day care support to the NHS.

But the Help the Hospices study found the amount of government money hospices received as a proportion of their spending fell for the last three years.

In England, government funding now stands at 32% of the £450m expenditure on charitable hospices, having fallen from 34% in 2004 and 33% in 2005.

The rest of the funding has to come from charitable donations.

The figures also revealed the amount hospices receive varied hugely – from nothing to 62% of their spend.

Help the Hospices chief executive David Praill said: “We are asking the government to deliver Labour’s election manifesto commitment to doubling the amount given for palliative care as a matter of urgency.

“Charitable hospices provide the majority of in-patient palliative care services as well as a range of day care, hospice at home, bereavement support services and training for doctors and nurses.

“We are not asking for 100% funding, but we do need the government to cover the cost of services that the NHS would otherwise have to provide.

“The donations we get from charity fundraising activities in local communities are already badly needed and cannot be stretched to cover core NHS responsibilities indefinitely as well.

“The situation will only worsen with an ageing population and more and more of us living longer with terminal illness – this issue has to be addressed now.”

Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: “The hospice movement is a unique service which has led the way in palliative care.

“They receive fantastic support from many relatives who raise funds for the service, often for years after the death of a family member.

“But they cannot survive on fundraising alone.”

And shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien accused the government of using the hospice movement to subsidise the NHS.

“Fair funding for hospices is in the best interests of patients.”

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said funding was being considered as part of a strategy being drawn up on end of life care and the report would help inform that process.

“We appreciate the immense contribution that the voluntary sector continues to make to specialist palliative care,” she said.

“We are also aware of the concerns some in the voluntary sector have around funding for specialist palliative care.”