Uncertain times for hospices present opportunities

Eamonn O’Neal, our chief executive, reflects on what the changing healthcare landscape means for hospices.

By News Team on August 4, 2016

Eamonn O'Neal

With Brexit, changes in Downing Street, shifts in fundraising regulation and an ever-stretched NHS, it’s an uncertain time for hospices.

The healthcare landscape is ever-changing.  Just this week, in fact, devolution of healthcare spend has hit the headlines again with a think-tank arguing that all local areas should request total devolution of their health budgets – something which would obviously impact hospices and local patients.

In Greater Manchester we’re the first to be experiencing devolved healthcare and it’s true that while we welcome the news that funds are being invested to integrate local care across hospitals, social services and the community, the changes do also bring with them a degree of uncertainty.

At St Ann’s just over a third of our funding comes from the NHS and therefore any squeezing of our income by the new decision makers could have a real impact on the services we can provide, and –  most importantly – on the lives of our patients.  This in turn would bring more stresses and strains for hospitals as thousands of people remain in acute settings for longer, without access to the invaluable health and social care that hospices provide.

The current uncertainty certainly brings its challenges, and as a previous chair of the board at St Ann’s, now its new chief executive, I believe hospices should be bold in shouting about the work we do, and the backing and support we need from local healthcare decision makers to help them to deliver care to people when they need it most.  We’re the experts in our field after all.

It’s important that, especially with an increasingly aging population, it’s remembered and recognised that hospices play an important part in this health and social care provision, helping support people away from the hospital environment as much as possible by giving them specialist care which improves the quality of their lives.  For many this care continues for several years as we help them to live the very best life they can.

This is crucial when you consider the increasingly stretched NHS and I know that CCGs in Greater Manchester are more committed than ever to improving end of life care. At St Ann’s we’re keen to continue working with the CCGs to help them deliver even better support for people who are often experiencing one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.

Uncertainty is often interpreted negatively but I believe uncertainty also presents opportunities.  Hospices should be proactive, nimble and responsive.  During a period of uncertainty we should be offering solutions in support of the ever-stretched NHS, especially at this time of change.

We need to shout from the rooftops about how we can help free up hospital beds and reduce admissions by providing the very specialist care that patients with life-limiting illnesses need.  And that’s the most important point that we can make to CCGs, government and devolution chiefs.  The people we care for are our number one priority and they should receive the highest level of care, in a place they most want to receive it, right when they need it most.

By working together more collaboratively, hospices can make sure our voices are heard.  As experts in end of life care it’s absolutely crucial that we’re at the table to give a voice to our patients – and future patients who could benefit from our services and improve their quality of life.

Everyone deserves the same quality of care and support at the end of their life as they receive when they are born and it shouldn’t matter where they live or which community they belong to. There are definitely some gaps currently and it’s vital that any postcode lottery around care for people with life-limiting illnesses is addressed. Eamonn O’Neal, Chief Executive of St Ann's