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Children’s hospices 'facing closure' without funding increase

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Children’s hospices in England face uncertainty about their future ability to provide care for terminally ill children and support for their families, due to NHS and local council cuts, a charity has warned.

Together for Short Lives, a charity for children’s palliative care, described the current situation as a combination of increasing costs and “declining, patchy NHS funding”.

“All children’s palliative care services need equitable and sustainable funding”

Andy Fletcher

In a report, published today, it warned that this scenario was a “dangerous cocktail” that was putting the long-term future of seriously ill children at risk.

It noted that last December NHS England had announced plans to increase funding by £7m in addition to the existing £11m Children’s Hospice Grant if clinical commissioning groups also matched the investment over the next five years.

However, the charity claimed that the government arms’-length body had since gone back on its promise of ringfencing in the NHS Long Term Plan, which was published in January.

Instead, the plan had stated that the additional funding would also be available to other, non-hospice palliative care services, the charity said.

Together for Short Lives is now calling on NHS England to help “secure the future of other children’s hospices by keeping its promise to protect the Children’s Hospice Grant” – and go above and beyond by increasing funding to £25m per year.

Its call, which comes during Children’s Hospice Week, is backed by evidence from a survey of 27 children’s hospices, some of which said they were faced with closure due to financial pressures.

“The lack of NHS and local council funding has a huge impact on the care and support we are able to provide”

Luen Thompson

According to the survey, last year 74% of children’s hospice charities experienced a real terms cut and 56% experienced cuts or freezes in CCG funding in cash terms, while 15% of charities received nothing at all from their CCGs.

Meanwhile, at the same time, the cost of care required to meet the needs of seriously ill children and their families had grown to an average of £3,681,442 – a 4.5% increase between 2016-17 and 2018-19.

The charity said that uncertainty over the future funding was cited as a significant factor by one provider, Acorns Children’s Hospice, in its recent decision to propose closing its Walsall hospice.

Chief executive of Together for Short Lives, Andy Fletcher, warned that “Acorns’ proposal to close one of its children’s hospices could be just the tip of the iceberg”.

Mr Fletcher added: “All children’s palliative care services, delivered in hospitals, children’s hospices and the community, need equitable and sustainable funding.

“It is simply not sustainable to expect specialist children’s palliative care services provided by children’s hospices to be funded by charity reserves and the generosity of the public,” he said.

Luen Thompson, chief executive of Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice, noted that “the lack of NHS and local council funding has a huge impact on the care and support we are able to provide to the families who need it”.

“NHS funding for children’s end of life care is going up every year”

NHS England

Despite having the necessary facilities and plenty of families who need access to them, Forget Me Not said it was unable to open its Bury hospice due to a lack of funds from the NHS.

Ms Thompson said: “Our offer to families shouldn’t depend on how much we raise at a bucket collection or how much bric-a-brac we sell in one of our shops.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “NHS funding for children’s end of life care is going up every year and is set to more than double within the next five years, with up to £25m going in to care as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.”

She added: “We are working with local health groups – including councils which of course have an important role to play in these services – and Together for Short Lives to provide the kind of support that children and their families want.”

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