Hospice Care Heads For Crisis As WAG Funding Comes To An End

Hospices could be forced to cut vital services that thousands of terminally ill patients depend on because of a lack of government funding. It is feared that Wales’ 13 voluntary hospices will not be able bridge a £10m gap in funding through charitable donations alone when the money comes to an end in March. Hospices have been lobbying the Welsh Assembly Government for extra, recurring, money but health minister Dr Brian Gibbons has said this is a matter for local health boards.

LHBs have, in turn, said no more money is available.

If no solution is found to the growing funding crisis, some hospices could be forced to axe services that their patients, many of whom have cancer, have come to rely on in the past few years.

Andrew Richards, chief executive of Hospice of the Valleys, said, “Last year we raised £290,000 in Blaenau Gwent to help sustain this hospice – next year we will have to do more. The generosity of local people in supporting hospices is second to none but we cannot keep going back to the same people time and again for more money because there will come a point when they say no. We are also in competition with other charities that need funds. It is a worrying time.”

The funding crisis stems from a £10m grant that former health minister Jane Hutt made in 2002. Hospices were told they had to bid for a slice of the money, which could only be used for new service developments. Many hospices used the money to recruit extra clinical staff, social workers and improve the provision of complementary therapy.

But that money is non-recurring and there is no indication that the Assembly Government will pick up the cost of those services beyond March 2006, when the initial grant runs out, even though thousands of patients now depend on them. Without additional funding, these services could be cut if hospices cannot raise the additional money through fund-raising initiatives.

Wales’ 13 voluntary hospices rely largely on fundraising to maintain their services – it costs £1,500 to run Hospice of the Valleys for a week. They receive only about 3% of their funding from the NHS, through LHBs, even though it has been estimated that every pound spent on hospice care saves the NHS as much as £3.

In England, hospices receive a 26% contribution from the NHS, and the Government has recently announced a £50m boost for England’s palliative care budget.

Mark Isherwood, Conservative AM for North Wales, said, “While we accept that there are already massive demands on healthcare provision in Wales, it is clear that the needs of hospices are being largely ignored by the Assembly Government. Ministers must understand that the hospice movement, in its voluntary capacity, does a huge amount of work to provide care for patients facing the end of their lives.

“If hospices did not exist taxpayers would have to pick up the full cost of providing this much-needed and vitally important care. It is high time Wales matched the commitments being made elsewhere. Unless hospices are put on a firmer financial footing through increased government funding, there is a real risk that we could lose palliative care beds across Wales.”

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government said, “Hospices play a valuable role in providing palliative care services in Wales. In recognition of that role, the Assembly Government has made £10m available over the past four years to support and develop palliative care services. We are now carrying out a full review of palliative care services to see what services are needed where.

“The commissioning of palliative care and end-of-life care to meet patients’ need is a matter for local health boards. We expect local health boards and hospices to work together, through the regional cancer networks, to agree which services hospices should provide as part of an integrated package of care for patients and to agree sustainable funding arrangements for the future.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will urge the National Assembly to back a call for a review of hospices and palliative care. The party will use a debate tomorrow to call for an all-Wales review of the commissioning by LHBs of hospice and palliative care services. And it wants the review to take into account the findings of the Assembly’s health and social services committee’s current review of cancer services for people in Wales.

Wales’ 13 voluntary hospices want to be involved in discussions about core palliative care services and they want those that they do provide to be properly funded, like other NHS organisations providing such care.