Council leader calls for hospice care review: Coun Iain Malcolm's letter to Matt Hancock in full

South Tyneside Council’s leader, Cllr Iain Malcolm, has written to the Government regarding the funding, commissioning and provision of palliative care.

By Chris Binding
Friday, 25th September 2020, 3:23 pm
Coun Iain Malcolm has written to Matt Hancock
Coun Iain Malcolm has written to Matt Hancock

The letter, addressed to Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, follows the recent decision by South Tyneside’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to overhaul end-of-life services, almost two years on from the closure of Jarrow’s St Clare’s Hospice.

This is the letter in full:

Dear Secretary of State

“I’m writing to you to ask the Government to urgently review the funding, commissioning and provision of palliative and end-of-life care, as part of the wider ongoing review into social care, and to take action to ensure that every citizen of this country has access to dignified, comfortable care of their choice close to their loved ones and in a place of their choosing.

“Palliative and end-of-life care should be a core NHS function, paid for entirely through taxation.

“Yet palliative and end-of-life care in this country is too often shouldered predominantly by the voluntary sector, resulting in an unequal patchwork of provision, a postcode lottery which leaves too many people left to spend their final days either in a stressful, clinical setting or alone and far from their loved ones.

“In South Tyneside, the closure of St Clare’s Hospice in early 2019 (due to insolvency) left South Tyneside without a dedicated in-borough hospice.

“As a council, we explored all options available to us to reinstate a dedicated hospice service, recognising that local residents care passionately about the restoration of the much-needed option of dignified, locally-accessible hospice care, alongside support for people to have palliative and end-of-life care at home.

“Yet there was no way to salvage the St Clare’s arrangement due to the circumstances in which it was closed, which were beyond our control, and for which the council demanded an investigation by the Charity Commission, and our investigations soon showed that it would not be financially possible for the local authority to fund the establishment of a new facility.

“We have already faced drastic cuts in our budget in recent years, being amongst the hardest hit authorities nationally, making it increasingly difficult to meet existing statutory responsibilities.

“It was hoped by many that the South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group could replace the hospice with like-for-like provision, but following an extensive review, their announcement today (September 24) has confirmed that, with all the will in the world, a dedicated hospice facility is not something the local health and care system can achieve, even with additional investment that has been put in by the CCG.

“There is great hurt, sorrow and anger in my local community that this is the case.

“There is understandable confusion and frustration that that a service of such significance cannot be offered as part of the National Health Service.

“Why should it fall to the voluntary sector to fill this gap with charitable donations and fund raising? The NHS was, after all, designed with the intention that all people should be able to access the healthcare they need ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

“With the ongoing pandemic placing new pressures on the voluntary sector, it will be sadly not surprising if more hospices across the country are forced to close, placing more and more people in this horrible position.

“Everybody should have the right to spend their final days in comfort and with dignity in a place that they choose; it is unacceptable that a postcode lottery should meant that some people at the end of their lives have no choice but to receive palliative and end-of-life care either at home, in the community, or outside of the borough, far from loved ones.

“Why isn’t the Government stepping up, acknowledging the inequity of this situation, and taking some responsibility to care properly for its citizens in their final days?

“The current government review into social care offers a clear and suitable opportunity to look urgently at this related area – although it is concerning that there have been suggestions in recent weeks that this much-needed review may be yet again delayed.

“I urge you to act now to rectify this untenable situation by making palliative care a core function of the NHS.”

A message from the Editor:

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to the Sunderland Echo website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit here to sign up. You can subscribe to the newspaper with 20% off here. Thank you.