Express & Star

Acorns chief: 'Why should children's hospice care be funded by selling second hand clothes?'

Acorns chief executive Toby Porter, writing in today's Express & Star, says children's hospices should receive more Government support.

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Thousands have backed a petition urging Acorns' Walsall Hospice to remain open

On June 4, Acorns reluctantly announced a proposal to close our children’s hospice in Walsall due to a shortage of funds.

I would like to thank readers for the outpouring of support for our charity, and in particular by the compassion and concern for the children and families we support, writes Acorns chief executive Toby Porter.

Almost 30,000 of you have now signed the online petition to prevent the Walsall hospice from closing . Thank you.

We have been touched and moved by the many fundraising initiatives announced by new and existing supporters.

All donations to our children’s hospice care are hugely welcome and appreciated.

Emma Aspinall, our director of care at Acorns, recently recorded a special thank you message to local people for their support and generosity at this difficult time.

WATCH Emma's thank you message here:

The question which has understandably been asked by families, members of the local community and supporters is how much additional funding Acorns would need to be confident of withdrawing our proposal to close our Walsall children’s hospice, without risking our sustainability as a charity?

The answer is about £1.5 million of new funding a year.

As hugely welcome as the wonderful offers of support are from across our local community, there is no evidence yet that we can get near that figure from new income from our shops or new donations from supporters.

Similarly, Walsall Council and our local NHS commissioners have all been hugely sympathetic but have made it clear that their own budgets are exhausted and they have no new funds to share. These are tough times, and there are no easy answers.

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However, NHS England and the Government in London could, if they wanted to, commit the funds that would change the funding picture by the amount we need.

We can’t realistically expect NHS England to make a special grant to Acorns.

What we could expect, however, is a fairer funding settlement for all the country’s children’s hospices, which in turn would deliver us at Acorns the funds we need to keep Walsall open.

We are not the only children’s hospice to be struggling to fund the care we provide.

Acorns Children's Hospice chief executive Toby Porter

The Observer this Sunday revealed that one of London’s best-known children’s hospices will be halving the number of children it supports due to the same financial pressures we are feeling at Acorns.

Acorns have received messages and offers of support from MPs across the political divide, representing children and families in their constituencies who currently receive care and support from the Acorns hospice in Walsall.

Three Black Country MPs met last week with Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Other MPs from across our region have written to him and his officials.

This is why on Tuesday, I travelled to the Houses of Parliament with Mark Lyttle, the brave father of Isabella, who died at the end of April.

Mark Lyttle with his daughter Isabella

Mark and the rest of her family have become incredible campaigners over the past two weeks for the Acorns hospice in Walsall. It was staff and volunteers there that cared for Isabella up to her death, and continue to support the family now.

Mark and I will be meeting with many of the Walsall and Black Country MPs.

This is the message I will ask them to pass onto Matt Hancock and NHS England.

A child with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness rightly has access to the very best services the NHS has to offer.

From GPs, to consultants, to nurses caring from them in intensive care and other hospital wards.

All of this is fully funded by the NHS, and we would be scandalised if this was not the case.

But when they come to a children’s hospice, while the care they receive is no less professional, and the nurses and healthcare assistants no less qualified, suddenly only around a third of the cost is met directly by the NHS.

This is despite their being no element of hospice care that isn’t under the NHS constitution.

Acorns' chief executive has urged the Government to make more funding available to support their work

There is nothing Acorns does for children and families that isn’t recommended under NICE guidelines for children’s palliative care. As a healthcare charity, we are regulated and inspected by the CQC.

Why, therefore, are we happy as a society for the majority of this children’s hospice care to be funded by selling second hand clothes or supporters running marathons?

In uncertain times, the financial model is simply no longer working for many children’s hospices.

This is why many are being forced like we have been at Acorns to scale back or reduce services, and these pressures will only get worse.

Since our proposal to close our Walsall hospice was announced, supporters have consistently expressed surprise to learn that Acorns don’t get more Government funding, and we are consequently reliant on shops and donations to fund more than 63 per cent of our care.

That figure, in essence, represents a political choice.

On Tuesday, Mark Lyttle and I asked politicians to choose to instruct NHS England to deliver a better and fairer funding settlement for the country’s children’s hospices.