Monday, 26 July 2021

Historic house that became a much-loved hospice

Historic house that became a much-loved hospice

JOYCE GROVE was built as a private residence for the Fleming banking dynasty in 1908, five years after the family purchased the 2,000-acre Nettlebed Estate.

It became a convalescent home owned by St Mary’s Hospital at Paddington in the Thirties and then a training centre for NHS nurses in the Fifties before Sue Ryder took over in 1979.

The charity first confirmed its intention to sell the 12-bed hospice in 2011, saying it cost too much to maintain the historic structure and the location was too isolated for some people to reach.

In 2013 it said palliative care would move to the top floor of the new Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley, which at that stage was yet to be built.

But the following year it pulled out, saying this didn’t offer enough room for its day services so it would need to find some additional space and didn’t want to be spread across two sites. The £16 million “health campus” off York Road opened in 2016 and the top floor remained vacant for some time but now hosts ear, nose and throat and plastic surgery clinics.

Meanwhile, Sue Ryder sought planning permission from South Oxfordshire District Council to convert Joyce Grove into 20 flats and this was finally granted earlier this year.

In 2018, shortly before the palliative care “hub” opened, the charity announced its plans to sell the property but at this stage it still intended to move the 12 inpatient beds elsewhere.

At the time Holly Spiers, the charity’s director of hospices, said the change would “expand the reach of the outstanding care provided at Nettlebed to more people”.

The following year, it reduced the number of beds at the hospice by half, saying they were no longer needed due to a drop in demand for inpatient care and the rising popularity of the outpatient alternative. It said fewer than six of those 12 beds had been occupied for some time and it was satisfied that this would not be reversed.

Early last year, Sue Ryder announced the hospice would close last March and that no beds would be provided elsewhere as demand had declined further so there was no need for them. The Townlands Steering Group claimed Sue Ryder hadn’t provided enough information to justify this.

Scores of families approached the Henley Standard saying they couldn’t have coped with losing a loved one if the hospice hadn’t been available. Since then, others have come forward to praise the palliative care hub as their own relatives had always wanted to die at home.

In April, Sue Ryder warned it could fold unless the Government agreed to more than double its funding for hospices within the next decade to meet 70 per cent of their costs. It says the need for its services in South Oxfordshire is growing rapidly in line with national trends and it won’t be able to keep funding them through donations and fundraising alone.

This would have been a problem anyway but was worsened by the coronavirus lockdowns, which forced its shops to shut and events to be cancelled, even though it kept up home visits by clinical staff.

The charity asked Henley MP John Howell to call for a Parliamentary debate or table written questions or a Private Members’ Bill but he declined. He said he sympathised but greater intervention could compromise the charity sector’s independence.

Sue Ryder’s emergency coronavirus appeal has raised more than £128,000 in South Oxfordshire. To donate, visit sueryder.org/donate

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