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Express & Star comment: Funding for hospices is lamentable

By Star Comment | Walsall | Opinions | Published:

It is devastating to see the struggles faced by Acorns, which as we reveal today is being forced to close one of its three children’s hospices.

Acorns Children's Hospice in Walsall

The much-loved West Midlands charity has been helping babies and young people for more than three decades, providing vital care and support to those in their time of greatest need.

Sadly, it looks as though its Walsall hospice will be gone by the end of September. Its demise is a tragic example of the insurmountable challenges often faced by many hospices in modern day Britain.

Like the vast majority of charities, Acorns is largely reliant on donations to function. A drop in cash coming in, accompanied by rising running costs has left bosses with no option but to cut services, pending a consultation.

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The loss of its Walsall hospice will mean the 233 families that use it will need to move to one of Acorns other facilities, resulting in longer journey times for them and increasing the demand on the hospices in Worcester and Birmingham.

And 70 full-time staff are today facing up to losing their jobs. Acorns has always been exceptionally well run. No blame for the current state of affairs can be attached to the board or anyone associated with its day to day affairs.

It finds itself in a desperate situation that, depressingly, has become all too common for hospices around the country. Nearly all of the money that is donated to Acorns goes towards children’s care, which means that any dip in income is keenly felt.

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In the words of the charity’s chief executive, it has had a “torrid time” fundraising over the last 12 months, spending more on care than it has been able to bring in. From the perspective of Acorns, it is hard to see what could have been done differently.

When the funds dry up, the only solution remaining is to reduce services.

However, this is not a long term solution and there needs to be a change in the way we think about hospices in this country in order to prevent long term damage to the sector.

For a large number of charities, funding shortages are nothing new, but it does appear that the issue has become more acute in recent years.

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Indeed, the Hospice UK Advisory Council has identified financial sustainability as one of the most pressing issues facing boards and senior teams.

While Acorns receives some funding from the NHS, the cash is nowhere near enough.

In many respects, it seems to be an anomaly that hospices are so reliant on donations to survive.

Such a system places charities that are absolutely key to their local communities in a perilous position should they suffer a drop in donations.

Now is the time for the NHS to play a greater role in the funding of these establishments.

Allowing them to be put in a position where they are forced to cut services just so they can survive is a failure on the part of government.

For the time being, our thoughts are with the families and staff associated with Acorns.

Hopefully other companies will come forward with new opportunities for workers, while families will be well catered for at Acorns other sites.

If the Government does not heed the warnings and tackles what has fast become a crisis in end-of-life care, there will be long-term consequences.

Failure to do so will only serve to create a care deficit that will significantly worsen in the future.

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