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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Hospices 'facing funding crisis'
Ministers have pledged to prioritise palliative care
Many hospices are struggling to make ends meet and some are on the verge of closing, according to the Liberal Democrats.

Its spokesman for older people Paul Burstow carried out a survey of 201 hospices and palliative care units across England.

He found that most have not received promised government money to help them provide care to terminally ill patients.

One in four said they had to close beds in the last two years.

Government pledge

The government set up a 50m fund in 2001 to improve palliative care services as part of the NHS Cancer Plan.

However, the Lib Dem survey suggests that just one in four hospices received any of that money.

Ministers recognise that progress in delivering the 50m pledge has been slow
Department of Health spokeswoman
Two out of three said they are still waiting for money promised to them for the last financial year, which ended in April.

The government's cancer tsar or national cancer director Professor Mike Richards acknowledged on Thursday that money promised in the NHS Cancer Plan to improve palliative care had been slow to get through.

In a report to ministers on cancer spending over the past two years, he said: "The survey bears out our earlier concerns that investment in palliative care has been moving very slowly."

Changes underway

The Department of Health said plans were underway to overhaul the way hospices are funded.

A spokeswoman said: "Ministers recognise that progress in delivering the 50m pledge has been slow.

"They have asked the national cancer director to bring together a joint NHS/voluntary sector group - the national partnership group - to develop proposals for a new approach to specialist palliative care planning and funding."

But Mr Burstow accused the government of not delivering on its promises.

He suggested money from the National Lottery was helping to keep many hospices in business.

"The government said clearly in its NHS Cancer Plan that all NHS patients should have access to specialist palliative care advice and services. But it is not putting its money where its mouth is.

"The National Lottery - which is meant to fund projects additional to government programmes - is being used to shore up this core service and the voluntary sector is having to stump up the rest."

Mr Burstow called on ministers to make more money available to fully fund hospices.

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief, said: "The Cancer Plan identified palliative care as a priority.

"As the government's exceptional tracking exercise released today showed, vital money simply didn't get through.

"That's why Macmillan welcomes the creation of a specialist palliative care fund."

Joanne Rule, chief executive of CancerBACUP, said: "The Department of Health's report into cancer funding published today shows that palliative care is the poor relation.

"It is crucial that we support people through every stage of their experience of cancer."

Huge variations in cancer care
22 May 03  |  Health

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