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Acorns Children's Hospice boss: We have to act now for charity’s future

By Heather Large | Walsall | Health | Published:

The future of Acorns would be in jeopardy if the charity does not take steps to reduce it’s spending, chief executive Toby Porter said.

Acorns Children’s Hospice chief executive Toby Porter says spending on care is outweighing fundraising

When considering the proposal to close the hospice in Walsall, he said the directors and trustees had to look at how to ensure the charity would still be caring for children in decades to come.

“We need to take a 20 to 30 year view, we need to take these steps because the risks to the charity are so great if we don’t reduce our expenditure,” added Mr Porter.

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The charity has spent “significantly more” on delivering care during the last financial year than its income from fundraising.

For every £1 raised at Acorns, on average over the past three years; 37p has come from its partnership with the NHS, 11p has come from the profit from its network of more than 50 charity shops, and 52p has come from charitable donations, including legacies.

The proposal document, which was being given to staff and families today, says: “It has been well-publicised that many charities are struggling to raise all the funds they need to sustainably run their services in the present climate. Sadly, Acorns is no exception.

“Last year, we did not raise as much money as we had expected from our shops, and from our voluntary fundraising.

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“At Acorns, we have always been extremely grateful for the breadth and level of support we enjoyed across the West Midlands, since the charity opened its first children’s hospice in Birmingham in 1988.

“However, the last year has been very challenging for us. Most significantly, the total amount we were left by supporters in their wills, a very important source of income every year for Acorns but by its nature hard to predict, was the lowest for many years, and £1.4m less than the previous year.

“The shortfall this created was compounded by a disappointing drop in the profit from our shops and in the donations we receive from local businesses.

"Our national body, Hospice UK, recently published a report showing that almost two thirds of the country’s hospices are drawing on their reserves to meet shortfalls in funding.

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“This has also been the case for Acorns.

“This time we have been able to make up the major shortfall in annual income from our charitable reserves, but this is not sustainable.”

“While Acorns can and will always strive to raise more funds from our shops and fundraising, we have also to be realistic.

“Current conditions for charities are not straightforward. We should expect to be continuing to fundraise in a challenging environment and operating our shops in tough high street conditions for some time to come.

"The charity currently receives £1.2m a year from the NHS England Children’s Hospice Grant.

"Our NHS partnerships are extremely important to Acorns, and bring us around 37 per cent of the income we need to deliver our care.

'Excellent relationships'

“We have excellent relationships with NHS England nationally, and with Commissioners, Hospitals and GPs across our region

“We have always been extremely grateful for the funds we receive from the NHS, which is itself operating within a challenging financial environment.

“The directors and Trustees of Acorns have considered in their timing of this proposal a recent announcement by NHS England of a major review of its financial support to children’s hospices, as part of a broader review of their paediatric palliative care strategy and resourcing nationally.

“The particular challenge for Acorns is that NHS England, pending the completion of this review, is currently unable to offer a firm guarantee beyond March 2020 of the continuation of their Children’ Hospice Grant, which is divided between all of England’s children’s hospices.

“Acorns currently receives £1.2m a year from the NHS England Children’s Hospice Grant.

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“We have never hidden internally or externally how totally crucial this grant has always been to our ability to deliver care from our three hospice model.

“Were this not to be extended past the current year, it would create an immediate and massive problem for the charity. Neither NHS England nor Ministers have been able to offer any assurance beyond the current financial year, despite requests to clarify their intentions.

“This is a challenge for the entire children’s hospice sector in the UK, but a very immediate one for Acorns, given our relatively low reserves and our high expenditure on care. We have no choice therefore but to act now to reduce our expenditure whilst the NHS England review is ongoing.

“If they were to decide to either discontinue or make major changes to the grant, it could by then be too late for Acorns to take action to reduce expenditure by the level needed, after the conclusions have been announced,” the document states.

Pledge to support ‘fantastic' staff

Chief executive Toby Porter said the charity would do all it could to help affected workers find alternative employment.

“We are very mindful of our responsibility to our employees. The number of people being placed at risk of redundancy in Walsall will be a real shock,” he added.

Acorns will put workers in touch with an outplacement agency in a bid to find them new roles.

He says if the proposals to close Walsall go-ahead, there may be the option for some to transfer across to Birmingham or Worcester in the future.

Mr Porter praised all of the staff describing them as “really committed” and a “fantastic team”.

“It’s their qualities that makes the hospice a special place for children and families today.

“All I can do is apologise that this proposal has placed them at risk of redundancy,” he added.

Staff are being asked for their feedback on the proposal as part of the formal consultation process which runs until July 3.

A series of public meetings will be also be held later this month for families.

The charity said they will be able to raise any concerns and ask questions, adding: “Our priority at all these meetings will be listen to families with compassion but also to be open about the challenges we face, and why Acorns feels it needs to have made this proposal.

“We will want to reassure families that their child would receive the same very high standards of care and home-from-home environment in Birmingham or Worcester as they are used to receiving at Walsall.”

A dedicated email address has also be set up for them give feedback.

Supporters of Acorns can also find out more about the proposals by contacting the supporter services team. MPs and councillors are also being informed about the proposals.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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