Hospices in England and Wales will be able to offer funeral services direct to families for the first time with the launch of a franchise scheme that could help bolster funding for vital end of life care.
The pioneering initiative will enable hospices to provide a range of services to families living locally, including pre-arranged funeral plans, according to those behind the scheme.
“This is a natural extension of the care we provide our patients”
The Hospice Funerals LLP venture has been launched by St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset and a funeral service provider.
Under a franchise set-up, hospices will be able offer funeral services through outlets on the high street, with the first such funeral home due to be opened by St Margaret’s in Taunton in January next year.
The business is the brainchild of St Margaret’s chief executive Ann Lee and Howard Hodgson, chief executive of Low Cost Funeral, which is part of the Memoria Group.
“We wanted to provide people who need end of life care, either in their hospice or at home, a modern, transparent, personal and affordable funeral service,” said Ms Lee.
“This is a natural extension of the care we provide our patients so their final time, be it months, weeks or years, is free from worry about the practicalities of a funeral,” she said. “It also offers patients and their families more choice, whether under our care or not.”
“Providing funeral services is a natural extension to the wrap around care that hospices provide”
Ms Lee said the initiative had come out of a public consultation carried out by St Margaret’s that had looked at ways to maintain quality end of life and hospice provision in the face of increasing demand and funding cuts.
The idea is that profits generated by the new funeral services can be re-invested in local care and support services for those with life limiting illnesses and their families.
Those behind the scheme also say it will help address concerns about the spiralling costs of funerals, by offering more affordable fixed cost funeral packages.
“Our service is designed to reduce funeral poverty and to cater for all tastes, budgets, religions and preferences,” said Mr Hodgson.
The Hospice Funerals service will provide a list of suppliers, products and prices, as well as a bespoke software system, and also select, train and manage funeral home staff.
Pioneering service created by hospices and funeral firms
Hospices providers will receive income from funerals, commission from pre-arranged funeral plans and income related to memorials.
Stephen Roberts, chief executive of North Devon Hospice in Barnstaple, said offering funeral services would help families as well as providing a much-needed new income stream for hospice care.
“Putting it quite simply, a hospice providing funeral services is a natural extension to the wrap around care that hospices provide throughout the country to the whole family at end of life,” he said. “From a continuity of care, it makes complete sense.”
Mr Roberts said hospices were well-placed to talk about funeral provision with families as part of other discussions about a patient’s wishes.
“In addition to this, there is a recognised and real squeeze on hospice income,” he said. “With NHS funding pressures remaining and the UK economy set for some very uncertain times ahead, it is prudent management to identify other forms of sustainable income.”