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End the hospice funding crisis – before it is too late

Sue Ryder Chief Executive Heidi Travis warns that funding hospices cannot be left solely to chance and charity

Palliative care isn’t something we necessarily understand the value of until we, or somebody close to us, is in need of it. The hospice sector is a vital part of our healthcare system, providing expert clinical and compassionate care for people at the end of their lives, whilst relieving pressure on the NHS.

Unfortunately, with the current state of government funding, independent palliative care providers will soon be unable to meet the ever-increasing demand for end-of-life care.

A recent London Economics report commissioned by Sue Ryder revealed that the number of people needing end-of-life care in England will rise from 245,000 this year to 379,000 in the year 2030.

This is expected to drive the running costs of the palliative care sector up to £947 million a year by 2030. If government funding remains the same, the hospice sector will need to fundraise an incomprehensible £597 million every year to keep hospices open. This is simply not possible.

Critical healthcare services should not be reliant on fundraising initiatives. Yet, that’s the situation we are currently in. Despite the Health Secretary repeatedly stating in Parliament that the Government is committed to investing in ‘high quality palliative care’, we’re yet to see any long-term, sustainable funding being put in place. Handing out emergency, short-term financial packages is not sufficient or viable. Simply put, this cannot continue.

At Sue Ryder, we’re calling on the Government to increase statutory funding of hospice care to 70%. This amounts to an additional £313 million per year. But the collapse of the independent hospice sector would be disastrous, resulting in the NHS having to provide end of life care services at an added annual cost of £484 million for the Government.

Not only that, the NHS just would not have the capacity to provide the same level of specialist holistic end of life support that hospices offer to patients and their loved ones going through these difficult times.

As one of our Sue Ryder nurses said recently, ‘We are able to be flexible with our patient care to make sure we offer the very highest standards. We personalise our care around each individual patient – from adjusting meal times to the times they have a wash or a cup of tea, which helps to make patients feel comfortable and in control. We also try to fulfil all other requests they might have – both big and small!’

Failing to invest in our hospices risks people at the end of life, and their loved ones, suffering needlessly as they can no longer access the care they so desperately need. To ensure the palliative care sector can continue to be there for people at the end of their lives, the government must start planning now to increase long-term statutory funding and relieve the pressures facing palliative care services across the country.

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