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MP fears funding crisis for hospices

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has called on the Government to increase funding for hospices, saying hospices risk being left “unable to provide vital services” due to increased wage costs.

He told MPs at a Westminster Hall debate, which was called to discuss the impact of a new NHS pay award on hospices, that hospices that serve his constituency would be left with increased wage bills of several hundred thousand pounds unless the Government stepped in to increase funding.

He named Queenscourt hospice as one of the organisations who had contacted him to raise awareness of the issue.

He said in the debate: “Queenscourt Hospice serves my constituency, and the families and carers in my constituency, and like all hospices plays an incredibly important part in delivering NHS services. But they can only play that full part if they are fully funded. They face a £250,000 increase in their wage bill in order to do just that and isn’t the point of this debate, and what the government is refusing to engage on so far, is that unless that money comes from central government those hospices including Queenscourt will not be able to continue to provide the vital services that they do now.”

Liz McInnes, the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton who called the debate, responded; “Hospices seem to be faced with a choice of asking the community to give them extra money or reducing the service they provide.”

Mr Esterson said hospices that serve his constituency will struggle to meet the rising costs of employing nurses after NHS staff were awarded a pay increase of at least 6.5 per cent over the next three years. This increase will only be funded for nurses working in the NHS, such as in hospitals, as opposed to those working outside of the NHS, such as in hospices.

Hospices, which employ nurses, would have to find the extra funds through other avenues if they are to match the uplift, unless the Government steps in to increase funding.

Queenscourt receives less than 20 per cent of its funding from local health commissioners. Hospices offer services far cheaper than acute hospitals can. They also arrange for patients to die at home if they choose to, saving the NHS money. Community care at the end of life costs just £145 per day compared with £425 for a specialist palliative in-patient bed day in a hospital. Changing the setting of care for a patient at the end of life has the potential to reduce the daily cost of care by £280.

Between 355,000 and 457,000 patients need palliative care every year. If additional community services were developed to enable even 30,000 patients to reduce their hospital stay by just four days, there would be a potential saving of £34 million.

Mr Esterson added: “More funding for hospices can actually save the NHS money. It makes sense for the Government to invest in them.

"The pay award for NHS staff is obviously welcome but puts increased financial pressure on independent organisations like Queenscourt who compete with the NHS for staff and need to offer the same terms and conditions. Unlike NHS organisations they are not receiving any additional financial support from the government to cover the cost of meeting the pay award.

“Queenscourt provides a number of specialist support services to adults in Formby with advanced, progressive and incurable illness. Support is also offered to their families and carers and they provide education and support to other health care professionals.“

Queenscourt must raise approximately £3.5M every year to deliver services. In offering a comparable pay increase for staff, its annual wages bill has increased by approximately £250,000.

Debbie Lawson, Corporate Services Director of Queenscourt, said: "The benefits of supporting people to remain at home until they die and reducing hospital admissions are clear. There are benefits for the person and their loved ones in terms of quality, choice and experience and there are also clear financial benefits for the health and care system as a whole."

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