Hospice sector under threat amid increasing demand for palliative care

Sue Ryder marks Dying Matters Week by calling on the government to end the funding crisis facing the palliative care sector.

A Sue Ryder Nurse from our Hospice at Home team

An urgent plea

The urgent plea, issued during Dying Matters Week (11 – 16 May), follows an independent report which reveals that the number of people needing vital end of life care in England will rise by 55% over the next ten years.

This will see the 245,000 people expected to receive palliative care this year increase to 379,000 in the year 2030.

Due to this increase in demand, the running costs of the palliative care sector will reach £947 million a year by 2030. If government funding remains the same, the hospice sector will be required to fundraise £597 million every year in order to keep hospices open.

Sue Ryder has provided expert palliative care to people at the end of their lives for 65 years. The charity has warned that fundraising £597 million per year is simply not possible, and the country’s hospices can no longer operate with ad-hoc financial ‘top-ups’ that do not fundamentally address the serious long-term issues facing the palliative care sector.

Currently, the government provides only one third of the funding that hospices need to run their end of life care services. Despite the Health Secretary repeatedly stating in Parliament that the government is committed to investing in ‘high quality palliative care’, no sustainable funding has been forthcoming.

Sue Ryder says the third sector has papered over the cracks for as long as possible. Without a commitment from the government to fund 70 per cent of the costs for the palliative care sector, there is a serious risk it will collapse.

While increasing the statutory funding to 70 per cent will cost the government an additional £313 million per year, the collapse of the independent hospice sector would result in the NHS having to provide end of life care services, at an additional cost of £484 million each year for the government. Not only that, the NHS would not have the capacity to provide the same level of specialist holistic end of life support that hospices offer to patients and their families.

1 in 5 of hospices are thought to be at risk of imminent closure due to extreme financial difficulties

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, said:

“I think it will come as a surprise to many that their local hospice is reliant on the generosity of members of the public who choose to donate or fundraise.

“Put plainly, in order to pay the salaries of our doctors and nurses who provide expert care, pain and symptom management to people at the end of their lives, we rely on people buying second-hand clothes from our charity shops or running a marathon and asking their friends and family for sponsorship. It is unfathomable that such a critical part of our healthcare system is hanging by a thread.”

Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South and member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, said:  

“Hospices are a vital part of our healthcare system, allowing people to spend the end of their lives in a supportive and caring environment with their family and loved ones.  

“Essential healthcare services should not be reliant on fundraising and donations from members of the public to remain open. The government’s approach of offering short-term financial packages which are not adequate to the needs of the sector cannot continue.  

“Failing to invest in our hospices now risks much-loved institutions closing their doors for good, leaving people without access to the high-quality end of life care which they deserve.”

The value of palliative care

Unfortunately, palliative care is not something that we necessarily understand the value of until we or somebody close to us is in need of it. 

Emma Rayner, whose mother died at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice, pays testament to the care her family received:

“I do not think any words will fully encompass what the care provided by Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice meant to mum and to us as her family, and how essential it was in being able to start our healing journey.

“Once mum was transferred to the Sue Ryder hospice, I truly felt like a weight had been lifted and I was able to just be her daughter again, rather than her carer; someone who arrived each day to jab her in her stomach. Instead, I was able to sit with her, hold her hand and make precious memories. What greater gift is there to give to a family at the end of their loved one’s life?

“Hospice care is as essential to families who use it as a maternity unit is to new parents, or as a care home is to the elderly and their families.”