A North East MP spoke up in a parliamentary debate on June 14 as she calls on the Government to not “bury their head in the sand” regarding hospice care as a much-loved hospice in County Durham struggles to cope with rising costs.

MP for the City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy, has urged the government to “prioritise end of life care” as the sector faces a shortfall of £186m due to inflation and rising costs.

During the debate on Hospice Services, Ms Foy cited St Cuthbert’s Hospice in County Durham after the North East Integrated Care Board recently upped funding for the hospice by 1.7% as inflation reached 11%.

Read more: MPs write to ICB about funding issues for hospices in the North East 

The MP then said "we need to take this seriously" as she called upon ministers to meet with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to secure a model of funding for end-of-life care after hospices were not mentioned in the 2023 spring budget in March.

Speaking after the debate, Ms Foy said: “The Government can’t bury their heads in the sand on this issue. If they do not provide sustainable funding, hospices may well close and a vital source of care and comfort to people in their final days will be lost.

“With inflation comes increased costs. St Cuthbert’s has seen a massive rise in their energy bill - by tens of thousands of pounds. And let’s be clear about something: a care home can’t reduce their energy consumption. It’s really not an option. Medical equipment must be kept on.”

CEO of St Cuthberts Hospice, Paul Marriott, has praised the support of Mary Kelly Foy as the hospice continues to rely on fundraising and donations to help keep its doors open.

He said: “Rising energy, food and wage costs, are making it an ever more challenging environment in which to provide care. In spite of these challenges, the percentage of patients that report a positive of experience of care using the NHS Friends and Family Test continues to run at 100%.

“However, we are increasingly reliant on the community to support us through their volunteering and their fundraising. However, we cannot be complacent about this and we cannot keep on relying upon voluntary donations of money and time to plug the growing gap cause by under-funding by the NHS.

“I hope the Government will recognise the importance of the service we provide, and properly fund us to ensure we can continue to support those who need us.”

The Northern Echo: City of Durham MP Mary Foy

This is not the first time the City of Durham MP has spoken out about hospices, as she has previously written to the Chancellor asking for more targeted help for hospices in the North East and across the country.

However, as the Chancellor did not mention hospices or end of life care in the Spring 2023 budget, Ms Foy stated the future of the sector is “uncertain”.

She said: “The Chancellor’s failure to provide the Hospice sector with a bespoke financial support package in the face of sky high costs means the future remains incredibly uncertain for many.

“Politics is about choices. The Chancellor could have put Hospices' concerns to bed today. He could have allowed their staff to focus entirely on the vital respite and end of life care for which hospices are so appreciated and the reason they hold a special place in the public’s hearts. Instead, he chose to give tax cuts to millionaire’s pension pots and thus leave hospices wondering how on earth they will pay the bills at a time when charitable donations are reducing.”

Other North East MPs across party lines have signed a letter to the Integrated Care Board on May 17, emphasising that hospices should not have to rely on charitable donations to keep services running.

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Part of the letter read: “Whilst we recognise that hospices cannot, should not and do not provide all specialist palliative and end-of-life care services, for those services that are specifically mandated and a hospice is the sole or primary provider (e.g. specialist inpatient beds) then as you will know, Clause 16 of the 2012 Health and Care Act requires services to be adequately commissioned which includes an appropriate funding envelope in line with any relevant statutory guidance.

“This clearly is not currently the case with most hospices relying on charitable donations or reserves to make up the majority of the costs. This is an unsatisfactory and unsustainable position and we would like to see a clear explanation and timeline for how the NHS funding of those specific services will improve this year.”

The letter was signed by; Peter Gibson MP for Darlington, Simon Clarke MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Alex Cunningham MP for Stockton North, Paul Howell MP for Sedgefield, Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough, Jill Mortimer MP for Hartlepool, Matt Vickers MP for Stockton South, and Jacob Young MP for Redcar.

Mr Gibson paid tribute too all those who are involved in the Hospice sector, the nurses, doctors, trustees, volunteers and fundraisers for all that they do.

Mr Gibson acts as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for hospice and end of life care, and speaking during the debate, he highlighted the APPG’s recent report entitled “the lasting impact of Covid 19 on Death Dying & bereavement.” One of the key points from it was the sustainability of funding for end of life care and bereavement services and the need for funding that allows them to provide their care confidently, for years ahead not just the year ahead.

Mr Gibson raised the current challenges faced by hospices in the Tees Valley, saying: “just yesterday I learned that St Teresa’s is facing a budget Deficit of £541k, and Neighbouring Teesside hospice is facing a deficit of £400k and Recently Alice House in Hartlepool had to close some its services, losing staff, capacity and expertise through lack of funding.”

Mr Gibson has previously brought all Tees Valley MPs and the Chief Executives of local hospices together to lobby the local Integrated Care Board to provide greater funding for hospice services.

UK Hospices are budgeting for a deficit of £186 million this year. This means that the £100 million announced in the Spring Budget for thousands of local charities and community organisations in England will not be enough to support the hospice sector.

Mr Gibson concluded his speech by calling on ICBs to fully support the hospice sector, saying they need to “step up to the plate by commissioning and paying for the hospice care their community needs, at the same time safeguarding these institutions so integral to our communities, and save the NHS money, reduce the bed blocking. It really has the potential to be a win-win situation.”