Children's hospices to shut without increased funding

Together for Short Lives has warned that children’s hospices in England will be forced to cut services or shut unless the NHS increases its funding.

The charity, which helps terminally ill children, has published a new report examining funding for 27 of the 34 children's hospices in England, highlighting a ‘dangerous cocktail’ of higher costs and a drop in state funding.

With proposals already having been made to close Acorns Children’s Hospice site in Walsall, Together for Short Lives is worried that this could be the tip of the iceberg as NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens’ commitment to protect and increase children’s hospice funding is not being met. The charity is now calling on NHS England to keep its promise to protect the Children’s Hospice Grant – and go further by increasing it to £25 million per year.

Stevens had announced on 27 December that, over the next five years, up to £7million additional funding would be made available to children’s hospices each year on top of the existing £11million Children’s Hospice Grant, if CCGs also provide additional match funding. However, NHS England subsequently rowed back on this promise in its Long Term Plan.

The Together for Short Lives survey found that the funding each children’s hospice charity received from local NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) reduced on average by more than £7,000 between 2017 and 2019. In the last year, 74 per cent of children’s hospice charities experienced a real-terms cut in the money they received from CCGs. Over half of children’s hospice charities experienced cuts or freezes in CCG funding in cash terms. Of equal concern, 15 per cent of children’s hospice charities receive nothing at all from their CCGs.

Andy Fletcher, chief executive of Together for Short Lives, said: “All children’s palliative care services, delivered in hospitals, children’s hospices and the community, need equitable and sustainable funding. However, children’s hospices in England are facing a dangerous cocktail of growing costs and declining, patchy NHS funding, which is putting their long-term future at risk. Acorns’ proposal to close one of its children’s hospices could be just the tip of the iceberg. 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. It is time for Simon Stevens to make good on the commitment he made at Christmas by protecting the grant and increase NHS funding for children’s hospices.”

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