Life in Politics column by Stuart Andrew MP: Palliative care must be properly funded

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There can be no worse feeling in life than hearing the news that someone close to you has been diagnosed with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness.

That is why the care provided to those affected and their families, to help them through such a difficult time, is so important.

Prior to becoming a MP I worked in a number of hospices, such as Martin House Children’s Hospice, and have seen first-hand the excellent care they provide for such families. Now as a MP I work closely with Together for Short Lives, the National Children’s palliative care charity, and keep up-to-date with their progress.

This is an area I feel particularly strongly about and frequently raise with my colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure adequate funding and facilities are being provided not only in Yorkshire, but also nationwide.

I was pleased in July 2016 when we outlined six commitments to improve end of life care nationally by 2020. These commitments are: honest discussions between care professionals and dying people; dying people making informed choices about their care; personalised care plans for all; the discussion of personalised care plans with care professionals; the involvement of family and carers in dying people’s care and a key contact so dying people know who to contact at any time of day. The NHS has to meet these commitments and new measures are being developed to ensure local health and care leaders are meeting the high standards expected.

I still feel this is an area that doesn’t get enough publicity. According to a report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Children Who Need Palliative Care, in England alone there are 40,000 children living with life-limiting or life-limiting illnesses. Further to that, the impact to the wider family unit is immeasurable.

I welcome the report as it goes into detail about the changes that are needed in order for care to be where it should be. We must ensure that access to palliative care is there for all who need it, when they need it. To realise this aim, there must be better communication between the Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs), who commission services like hospices, and the NHS. A workforce must be in place that can meet the demand of experience necessary to care for patients. As this report found, the shortages in children’s palliative care staff are a real problem and something that must be addressed.

The funding provided by the voluntary sector does help to ease pressure on funding from the NHS, both within my constituency, Yorkshire and across the UK. On average, hospices receive 30 per cent of their funding from NHS sources. I am happy to say that this year, children’s hospices will receive £11m from NHS England. Local health commissioners, who have the best understanding of the needs in their areas, are best placed to allocate funds, but they must generate these funds and the power and impact of charitable donations cannot be underestimated in this sector.

Palliative care services absolutely must be properly funded. Hospices receive their funding from charities as well as the NHS.

It is the responsibility of us all to ensure this sensitive but vital area of care is the best it can be and I will continue to do all I can to raise awareness of palliative care.

Stuart Andrew is the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough.