'There will be more St Clare's - it's going to get worse' - South Tyneside politician's stark warning over future of care for terminally ill

Ministers have been warned more end-of-life services could shut down if they don’t heed the example of Jarrow’s St Clare’s Hospice.
The former St Clare's Hospice buildingThe former St Clare's Hospice building
The former St Clare's Hospice building

It is more than a year now since the institution collapsed into insolvency after more than 30 years providing palliative care to families in South Tyneside.

And now leaders in the borough are once again calling on the government to put more funding into the sector to avoid more areas being left without dedicated provision.

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“We’re trying to achieve something not just for this area but for the North East – successive governments have failed to meet this and the demand is there,” said South Tyneside councillor John McCabe.

“There is no provision, if it wasn’t for the charities the whole thing would collapse.

“In the 21st Century is that really applicable to something with such a massive effect on people’s lives?

“It needs to be resolved, a lot of hospices are struggling financially, we’ve done the research on that, it’s going to get worse and there will be more St Clares.”

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Coun McCabe, who represents South Tyneside Council’s Hebburn South ward, is chairman of the North East Joint Health Scrutiny Committee.

And he has now used his position to write to Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, calling on him to review funding allocated to palliative and end of life services within the NHS budget.

In his letter, he said: “It is wrong that services that care for those who are dying, supporting them to have a dignified and pain free end to their life, are reliant on voluntary donations.

“Any future plans embodied in the Access to Palliative Care and Treatment of Children Bill and subsequent Act of Parliament should include a commitment that these services should be funded in full on the same basis as other NHS services.”

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NHS bosses for South Tyneside have been working on plans for a new service to replace the former St Clare’s Hospice.

This is expected to include a new hospice hub ‘in the vicinity of’ South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields.

Health chiefs have previously said the hospice’s former HQ in Jarrow is ‘unlikely’ to reopen as a base for end of life care.

Coun McCabe’s letter in full:

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Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing to you in my capacity as chair of the North East Region Joint Health Scrutiny Committee which represents the 12 local authorities in the region asking that you urgently look at the future of Palliative and End of Life Care.

My colleague, Councillor Rob Dix, chair of South Tyneside Overview and Scrutiny Committee, sent you a letter in May 2019 highlighting the lack of funding within the NHS for End of Life Care. Hospices operating all over the country rely heavily on charitable donations to keep going. He asked that you review the funding for Palliative and end of Life Care within the NHS budget to ensure that the future of these vital services is secured.

Despite this letter being followed up in January of this year, to date we have had no response which is extremely disappointing.

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As a region we are extremely concerned that these services are not being given the appropriate priority within NHS spending plans, and have not done for decades.

I note the commitment to improve end-of-life care in the NHS Long Term Plan and a funding commitment of £25m to help keep facilities open and “improve” services. I would like further information about how these funds are being deployed as I am not aware that any of this funding [is] being allocated to any areas in our region.

I also note that the Access to Palliative CVare and Treatment of Children Bill [HL] is making its progress through the House of Lords having failed to progress beyond the reading stage on two separate occasions in 2017 and 2019 with a further two previous versions falling at the House of Commons stage.

As a region we want [to] reiterate that it is wrong that services that care for those who are dying, supporting them to have a dignified and pain free end to their life, are reliant on voluntary donations. Any future plans embodied in the Access to Palliative Care and Treatment of Children Bill and subsequent Act of Parliament should include a commitment that these services should be funded in full on the same basis as other NHS services.

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I look forward to your response,

Yours sincerely,

Coun John McCabe

Chair

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North East Region Joint Health Scrutiny Committee