Doctors and nurses working in hospices across the UK are calling on the government to provide more funding to ensure they can continue providing critical care.
The hospice sector saw demand for its services increase significantly during the pandemic, as many centres were able to alleviate pressure on hospitals by treating patients at home.
Dr Corinna Midgely, a consultant at Saint Francis Hospice in Romford, Essex, said some hospices may have to restrict the services they offer if they do not get more financial support soon.
She said: “We only get 30% of our funding from the NHS and the rest we have to fundraise and that has been exceptionally difficult through COVID times.
“So one call is, ‘Help! We need more money’, and the other is for more frontline staff. We need to recruit more to cope with the increase in pressures we are under.”
Hospices rely on fundraising to cover their costs but during the pandemic this was made much more difficult as charity shops closed and it was harder to host fundraising events.
According to Hospice UK data, this led to a 40% drop in fundraising and income levels still haven’t fully recovered.
‘The big question is how do we cope?‘
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told Sky News: “We are incredibly grateful to the hospice sector for their tireless efforts throughout the pandemic and we are working closely with the sector.
“Hospices received an additional £257m of grant funding in 2020/21, as part of the COVID-19 response to provide additional services and support discharge from hospitals.”
But Dr Midgely said this cash boost has long run out and hospices are now facing immense challenges.
“Our inpatient unit is busier than it has ever been and the big question is, how do we cope?” she said.
“We are very worried. The need is huge and we don’t want to stop giving.
“But I can imagine that in hospices across the country, beds could close and services could be cut”.
‘I learnt to live again to some extent’
The majority of hospice care is provided at home within the community.
For the Saint Francis Hospice, this amounts to almost 85% of all their care and was particularly noticeable during the pandemic.
Kate Marling, a clinical nurse specialist in palliative care, visits patients at their homes.
She said: “It’s a 24-hour service. As well as going out during the day and seeing people and their families at home we also have an advice line which a nurse will always answer and the reassurance and comfort that brings is huge.
“We need to be able to continue to do that.”
Kelvin Haddow, 70, who suffers with COPD, a chronic inflammatory lung disease, requires physiotherapy to keep him mobile and help with his breathing, which he receives at Saint Francis Hospice as an outpatient.
He credits the staff at the hospice for turning his life around.
“After a stay in hospital, I was seeing my doctor who said to me I’d be helped by some palliative care at the hospice, which took me back a bit,” he said.
“But when you come here it is not the feeling of doom and gloom. Far from it. I learnt to live again, to some extent.”