The boss of a North East hospice has warned the sector faces a ‘bleak outlook’ as he urged the Government to step in and help organisations like his deal with the rising cost of living.

The leaders of the 12 independent charitable hospices in the North East and North Cumbria are forecasting having to spend an extra £1m on energy bills in the next 12 months at a time when they are already under pressure from other rising costs.

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They also fear the strain on family budgets will mean donations will drop, leading them to issue an urgent call for ministers to provide them with financial support so they can continue to provide their vital end-of-life care services.

The 12 hospices, which includes St Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham, St Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington, Butterwick Hospice in Bishop Auckland and Stockton, and Teesside Hospice, set up a formal collaborative in 2017 to improve the provision of palliative and end of life care across the region.

The Northern Echo: Butterwick Hospice StocktonButterwick Hospice Stockton

Despite their efforts to find savings, they are finding that there are no deals to be had for rising energy costs in the current climate.

Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice and Chair of the Hospices North East Collaborative, argued as people at the end of life are at their most vulnerable, they are “surely a special case for additional support”.

He said: “Our communities are extremely generous to the Hospices in their local area, helping us to raise the money we need every year to ensure our care is free to all who need it. But the people and companies that support us are also facing the same financial pressures. That’s why we need Government to step in.”

“Fundraising has always been vital and whilst we can’t praise enough the individuals who go the extra mile to take on challenges and hold events for us, we have found that this income has been falling. Simply because those running marathons and skydiving are finding it hard to ask for sponsorship as we all struggle with the rising costs. It’s certainly a bleak outlook for us all in the Hospice care sector.”

“We recognise that the current crisis is affecting individuals, commercial organisations, public sector bodies and charities alike. Society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. And people at the end of life, are at their most vulnerable. They are, surely, a special case for additional support”.

The Northern Echo: Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice and Chair of the Hospices North East CollaborativePaul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice and Chair of the Hospices North East Collaborative

The hospices are also warning fears about the costs of staying warm and running vital medical equipment will see many patients either continuing to receive care at home but with the added stress of worrying about their energy bills or, alternatively, not having a choice about where they die.

At the same time, the costs of hospice care itself are set to increase significantly. Already, the 12 hospices must raise a total of more than £31m each year in order to keep their services free and available.

Jo Wallis, Director of Income Generation for Butterwick Hospice Care, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on our ability to fundraise, and that shortfall has been almost immediately followed by the cost-of-living crisis.

“Hospices are categorised as businesses and, therefore, cannot qualify for any energy cap, so we are inevitably facing greater financial challenges than at any time in our history.

“Butterwick Hospice Care exists to provide the best possible palliative care for adults and children, but that doesn’t come cheaply. We fully appreciate that the cost-of-living crisis is having an impact right across society but hospices need more help than ever.

"We are forever grateful for the magnificent support we receive from our dedicated fundraisers out in the community but urgent Government intervention is also required if these vital services are to be maintained.”

The Northern Echo: City of Durham MP Mary FoyCity of Durham MP Mary Foy

In a letter to Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Mary Kelly Foy, Labour MP for City of Durham, warned the 12 hospices would be in a ”parlous financial state” because of the rise in energy costs this winter.

She also said St Cuthbert’s Hospice had recently signed an electricity contract which will see its annual costs rise from £22,000 to £192,000 - a rise of £170,000 Upon the expiration of their current gas contract in September, the hospice expects its annual bill to rise from £10,000 to £133,000 – a rise of £123,000. In total, the hospice expects its increase in energy costs to total an estimated £293,000.

In the letter, Ms Foy said: “Together the twelve charities that make up Hospices North East and North Cumbria will need to raise an additional £1 million in order to cover energy price rises alone, at a time when pressures on household and business finances will make fundraising more difficult.

“As you will be aware there is no energy cap for charities such as hospices. Therefore, in the face of unprecedented price rises, it is abundantly clear that urgent government intervention is required to guarantee that hospices such as St Cuthbert’s can continue to provide free care and support to people with life-limiting illnesses, people approaching the end of life and people that are bereaved.

“In the absence of a freeze on energy prices, grant funding must be made available to charitable hospices in order to cover this increase in costs. Financial assistance similar to that offered to the sector during the covid pandemic would provide the most immediate means of ensuring hospices can meet these unprecedented energy costs.

“I must urge you to take every step necessary to ensure the Government shelters hospices and the services they provide from increased energy costs.”

A Government spokesperson said: “No national government can control the global factors pushing up the price of energy, but we will continue to support businesses, including hospices, in navigating the months ahead.  

“This includes doubling our support for high energy usage businesses, reducing employer national insurance by increasing the Employment Allowance, slashing fuel duty, introducing a 50% business rates relief and putting the brakes on bill increases by freezing the business rates multiplier - worth £4.6 billion over the next five years.”

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