Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Sue Ryder warns it could fold without help from Government

Sue Ryder warns it could fold without help from Government

A CHARITY which supports terminally ill patients in the Henley area has warned it could fold unless the Government more than doubles its funding for hospices.

Sue Ryder, which runs a palliative care hub for South Oxfordshire, says it is becoming harder to make ends meet from mostly donations and fundraising because the need for the service is growing rapidly.

At present only a quarter of the £3.1 million a year it costs to run the hub in Crowmarsh is met by statutory funding, which is below the national average of one-third.

This means the remaining
£2.3 million must be raised by supporters and customers of its charity shops, including the ones in Duke Street, Henley, and Milestone Way, Emmer Green.

The charity’s crisis has been worsened by the coronavirus lockdowns, which forced its shops to shut and events to be cancelled.

The hub faced a funding gap of at least £1.6 million despite government aid and Sue Ryder launched an emergency appeal, which has so far raised £128,000 in South Oxfordshire.

The charity says that even when its normal fundraising activities resume, the service will remain unsustainable because demand is predicted to increase by more than 50 per cent nationally within a decade.

The South Oxfordshire hub, which provides outpatient services and a “hospice at home” phone line offering support and home visits by doctors and nurses, currently helps about 120 patients a day.

If demand follows the national trend, this will increase to 186 in nine years, meaning the charity would have to raise what it says would be an unrealistic amount.

Sue Ryder says the Government must pledge to pay 70 per cent of all hospices’ costs and if it doesn’t, the charity is at “serious risk” of collapse, increasing pressure on the NHS and leaving patients and families without emotional support in their final days.

It says the increase would cost the taxpayer an extra £313 million a year but if the sector was to fail, it would cost the health service another £484 million.

The charity has urged Henley MP John Howell to call for a Parliamentary debate or to table written questions or a Private Members’ Bill on the issue. Maria Turnbull, director of the South Oxfordshire hub, says the service may need to expand but can’t without a more viable funding model.

Although the charity shut its 12-bed hospice at Joyce Grove in Nettlebed a year ago, the hub is caring for many more patients.

Mrs Turnbull said: “The main obstacle to running a sustainable service in South Oxfordshire is the funding gap. We fall short every year and our statutory funding isn’t enough.

“We’ve thrown every effort into fundraising to make up the difference and used funds from other areas, such as our retail arm and national campaigns, but that simply isn’t a sensible way to provide a vital healthcare service.

“To pay our doctors and nurses to provide expert care, pain and symptom management, we rely on people using our charity shops or taking on fundraising challenges. Anybody can see that’s not sustainable.

“The hospice sector has been underfunded nationally since it started and has papered over the cracks for too long.

“Seventy per cent may seem a significant increase but it’s fair given that we’re an essential part of the healthcare system. If the hub had to close there would be no palliative care in South Oxfordshire and many patients would end up in hospitals in Reading or Oxford, with obvious impacts on colleagues there. There would be even more pressure on GPs, district nurses and the ambulance service.

“Patients and families would have nobody to call for advice, which I feel is an undervalued aspect of our service as that reassuring and knowledgeable voice at the end of the phone is vitally important at such a stressful time.”

The charity continued making home visits throughout the past year’s lockdowns and staff wore full personal protective equipment. It will welcome patients back to the hub but has not decided when.

All restrictions on social contact should be lifted by June 21 as long as the pandemic remains under control.

Ms Turnbull said: “We can’t put an exact timescale on it for obvious reasons but we’ve started planning and that feels like a positive step.

“The teams have humbled me over the past year with their dedication — it has been very, very tough and they are all exhausted but they have carried on regardless.

“To anybody who donates or fundraises for us, I would like to say thank-you for your continued support. Every single pound really does make a difference.”

Mr Howell said: “I don’t want to see hospices brought under the umbrella of the NHS but for them to remain an independent sector.

“Once you start providing grants for more than 70 per of costs, then my concern is that the movement might become compromised.

“I do have sympathy for Sue Ryder’s situation and I know that this issue is already being looked into by the Department of Health and Social Care.

“Sue Ryder has already gone out of its way to address its costs in South Oxfordshire by moving from Nettlebed to the new hub.

“Its new model is highly effective at meeting people’s needs so the sector as a whole might need to consider whether it should do something similar.”

The Government says it recognises the “huge” role which palliative care charities played in helping the country deal with the coronavirus outbreak. It provided more than £150 million extra funding to the sector between April and July last year and recently announced a further package of up to £125 million.

• To support Sue Ryder, visit sueryder.org/donate

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