The hospice sector will be under increased pressure this winter due to social distancing measures and financial pressures, charities have warned.
In a survey of 118 hospice leaders at the end of August, Hospice UK found that 93% of respondents feared people with end of life needs could miss out on vital support.
This is largely as a result of social distancing measures and a drop in community fundraising.
More than two-fifths, 44%, estimated that they would have to reduce the volume of services they provide to people with palliative and end-of-life needs due to the impact of Covid-19.
Jonathan Ellis, director of advocacy and change at Hospice UK, said: “With stricter social distancing measures now reinstated across the country, opportunities for the public to raise money for the hospice sector are even further from reach, and while we are very grateful for the previous emergency funds from the government, the sector is now struggling and needs more sustainable funding.”
Ellis also warned that hospices are now looking at making redundancies, with many processes already underway.
He added: “This crisis has laid bare the fragility of a system that relies so heavily on charitable giving to fund core health and care services for people affected by terminal illness.
“Increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospital, and more people dying, means the expertise provided by the hospice sector to care for those at the end-of-life is vital as the country heads into the winter months. Cuts and redundancies would not just be disastrous for the sector, but for the national as a whole.”
Marie Curie urges NHS England to prioritise testing for hospice staff
Meanwhile Marie Curie has warned that a lack of access to regular and comprehensive testing for frontline hospice staff is compromising the care of patients receiving end-of-life services.
The charity has sent a letter to NHS England urging prioritisation of hospices to ensure that the doors remain fully open this winter.
It says hospices could be forced to turn away vulnerable patients in crisis, and that a short supply of flu jabs is “another kick in the teeth”.
Marie Curie is demanding that hospices be included in weekly testing to mitigate the risks of asymptomatic staff unknowingly transmitting Covid-19 to other staff and to ensure the charity has enough staff to keep its hospices open fully.
It is the UK’s largest provider of hospice care outside the NHS.
Marie Curie is also concerned that vulnerable people in crisis may decline admission to hospices for fear of contracting Covid-19.
Dr Sarah Holmes, medical director, said: “While staff who are symptomatic or have a family or household member who is symptomatic will still need to isolate, this this still leaves us with a dilemma as we know that staff can remain asymptomatic and we wouldn’t know.
“Every day that passes without a regular weekly testing regime in place for hospice staff puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk. The lack of testing could also end up paralysing not only Marie Curie hospices but other independent providers too.”
Hospices around the UK launch fundraising appeals
The government granted the hospice sector £200m to help get through the Covid-19 crisis after fundraising all but stopped following the national lockdown.
However this was not enough to plug the gap left by income drops and a rise in demand, so many hospices throughout the UK have launched emergency fundraising appeals.
Thames Hospice launched an urgent fundraising appeal to help fund the significant increase in demand of its community and inpatient services during the coronavirus pandemic. With its shops closed and many fundraising activities on hold for the foreseeable future, the hospice is set to lose over £1m of income over the next few months.
Meanwhile, Katharine House Hospice in Stafford has launched emergency appeal as it is facing an uncertain future due to the financial impact of Covid-19. The pandemic has had a major impact on its ability to generate funds as it had to cancel all of its fundraising events and it was forced to close its 22 shops.
The hospice is aiming to raise £1m by January to minimise the effect of Covid-19 on its services. It has raised more than £200,000 since September.