NEGATIVE perceptions of children's hospices are preventing parents from using vital services, it has been revealed.

New research shows most people associate hospices with the words death and sadness.

A campaign was launched yesterday by supermarket chain Somerfield in support of its charity of the year, the Association of Children's Hospices (ACH), which carried out the survey.

It hopes to overcome the misconception about hospices with the Butterfly campaign to redefine understanding of children's hospices from words such as bleak and depressing, to colourful and happy.

Speaking about the research, Jackie Leighton, of Butterwick Children's Hospice, in Stockton, said: "Because of negative perceptions associated with children's hospices, many children and families don't want to make use of their services.

"Moreover, families with life-limited children often feel isolated from the community while at the same time struggle to cope with everyday life.

"We constantly strive to spread the word that help is available and that children's hospices are places for living - Somerfield's Butterfly campaign should really improve people's understanding of what a hospice is and the important role it can play, especially in enhancing the lives of children and their families.

"At a hospice, the child's medical care becomes the responsibility of the care team, along with all the mundane everyday tasks.

"The family can let go of the constant anxiety of nursing their ill child and instead enjoy spending quality time with them in a bright and comfortable environment."

Staff at Somerfield, which runs 900 stores under its name and 400 as Kwik Save, are aiming to raise more than £1.5m for ACH in 18 months.

The UK's 38 children's hospices are all voluntary organisations and receive only five per cent Government funding.

The research revealed that nearly half of those surveyed thought that children's hospices received at least 50 per cent of their funding from the Government and 15 per cent believed that children's hospices are entirely state funded.