‘Baffling’ discrepancies in palliative care funding across the UK are unfair and must be remedied by Government action.
That is the view of Weston Hospicecare chief executive Paul Winspear, who has joined a growing chorus of sector experts in backing a parliamentary bill calling for funding reform.
MP Bambos Charalambous has tabled the bill in an effort to iron out uneven financial allocations, which currently mean hospices around the UK see the NHS fund between one and 50 per cent of their services.
Mr Charalambous wants new laws ‘to require the provision of comprehensive palliative care to those with terminal illnesses’, and believes public sector investment in hospices is a key way to make this happen.
He said: “I am staggered by the thought that many hospices survive thanks only to their own fundraising activities or the generosity of donors.
“Palliative care needs to go hand in hand with hospital treatment and should be available for all. Unfortunately, the provision of palliative care is patchy at best.
“We need to have properly funded nationwide palliative care provision that is integrated with local authorities, community care providers and local NHS providers, so that there is a comprehensive and coherent way of addressing end-of-life care. This bill will seek to provide that.
“Marie Curie Cancer Care has estimated that in the next 25 years an extra 100,000 people will die each year. The need to do something about this problem could not be starker.
“Each person who becomes terminally ill has only one chance to live well until they die, and it is unacceptable that their only chance of living well is dependent on the prioritisation of funding for their hospice from their local CCG.
“We owe it to all current and future sufferers of terminal illnesses to make sure that we improve the provision of palliative care and make the system better and fairer.”
The bill has already won support from a number of MPs during its first reading in parliament, and is set for a second airing in November.
Weston Hospicecare is supporting the bill, and Mr Winspear hopes the area’s MPs – including Weston’s John Penrose and James Heappey in Wells – will back the idea too.
Mr Winspear (pictured above) says hospices need to be on an even financial footing with other NHS services, and highlights a recent pay increase awarded to NHS nursing staff as an example of how hospices lose out under the current system.
He said: “As a general rule, hospice staff earn slightly less than their NHS counterparts as a result of the severe funding squeeze on hospices and the struggle to secure the funding shortfall necessary to survive.
“However, hospices cannot afford their staff’s pay and employment terms and conditions to get too out of step with the NHS, else recruitment and retention becomes harder and harder.
“Thus, while the recent NHS pay award announcement of 6.5% (on average) over three years is great news for NHS staff and no doubt highly deserved, it puts yet further pressure on hospices whose payroll typically constitutes around 70% of total operating costs.”
Mr Winspear has written to MPs on behalf of Weston Hospicecare to try to arrange talks on the issue.
However, he is also urging politicians to support the bill proposed by Mr Charalambous, and warns any collapse of the nation’s hospice network would have a devastating impact on patients across the country.
He said: “The UK is covered by a patchwork quilt of more than 200 hospices, like Weston Hospicecare, which provide palliative care and end-of-life care to our communities, and most of which are independently run and registered as charities.
“The boundaries between hospices evolved over time and are managed with one over-riding goal: maximising the quality of life of those suffering with life-limiting illnesses, and making sure that no-one who needs our care misses out.
“If that quilt were to be ripped away, our hospitals and care homes would be completely unable to cope, and the patients and families who find solace, refuge and respite in our hospices would be left out in the cold. The gap in end-of-life care provision without hospices is quite simply, unthinkable.
“The bill correctly points out that while average funding of hospices’ total operating costs is around 30% this number fluctuates wildly from anywhere from 1% to 50%, with the applicable number seemingly an accident of post code, and with baffling differences in funding levels by the clinical commissioning groups between regions.
“Weston Hospicecare agrees that the role played by hospices throughout the UK, the care provided by our patchwork quilt, should be recognised, quantified, acknowledged and properly funded in a more consistent and fair manner.
“Now is the time for end-of-life and palliative care to be remembered as a fundamental part of our national health service provision whether via the NHS or via independent and charitable providers, and to ensure that hospices, including your local hospice, do not get left behind.”