Mark calls for more funding for hospices including local St Ann's Hospice

January 30, 2008 10:00 AM
By Mark Hunter

It is pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Williams. I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) on securing this important debate on hospice funding. I would also like to thank him for being one of the first MPs to sign my early-day motion, tabled last year, on St. Ann's hospice in Heald Green, in my constituency. This issue is very close to my heart and I and other Members feel very strongly about it.

I have visited St. Ann's hospice on many occasions and have seen for myself, in both a public and personal capacity, the truly exceptional work that hospices do and the difference that such provision makes for those in need of palliative care and their families. I continue to be genuinely shocked by the lack of Government support for all the hospices that play such a vital role in the national health service. Despite Government assurances that voluntary organisations that deliver public services should be paid the full cost of providing such services, hospices still only receive, on average, one third of their total costs.

St. Ann's is a case in point. As the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) pointed out, it receives only £3 million out of the £9 million that it needs each year, so it has to find the other £6 million itself. That equates to a whopping £16,000 a day. Surely the Government want such hospices to spend more of their time providing the excellent care that the NHS needs, rather than having to spend time and energy raising so much money each and every day of the year.

Charitable hospices provide 80 per cent. of adult in-patient palliative care beds, yet their funding has dropped in real terms over the past few years, leaving 28 per cent. of independent hospices in deficit in 2006. Palliative care is a core service for patients-it is not, and never has been, an optional add-on. If independent hospices cease to exist, the NHS will have no option but to pick up the slack. The Government should be acutely aware of that fact and address the funding shortfall while there is still time. We do not want excellent hospices such as St. Ann's and the others that have been mentioned today to be unable to continue because of short-sighted funding arrangements.

We are all aware that hospices ask only for a level playing field; they want to be treated in the same manner as other NHS service providers. Hospices such as St. Ann's fulfil a necessary function in a society in which debilitating and life-threatening diseases such as cancer are sadly on the rise, and they do so in a manner that is truly laudable. They provide a unique and personal service that improves the quality of thousands of patients' lives. They also support patients' families and carers. When the Minister responds, I hope that he can tell us what action the Government intend to take to put right this desperate situation, and to ensure that hospices get the stable funding regime they so desperately require.

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