This week, Causeway Coast and Glens SDLP Councillors, Helena Dallat O’Driscoll and Orla Beattie, brought a motion to call upon the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, to award fair and transparent funding, in line with patient demand, for our hospices. Their motion received warm, unanimous support in the Chamber.
Speaking during the debate, Councillor Dallat O’Driscoll, who proposed the motion said:
“The emotional rollercoaster that a terminally ill person and their immediate family go through is incredibly difficult to describe. Losing my dad this year after a brave and tenacious battle with cancer was the most difficult experience that I have ever had to cope with. He was my father, my mentor, my go-to and a dear friend rolled into one.
“After his terminal diagnosis, it was hard to fathom the magnitude of what we as a family were about to face and our situation was made all the lonelier by COVID-19 and its harsh but necessary restrictions. However, having our Northern Ireland Hospice community nurse, Ciara, walk us through that experience enabled us all to learn invaluable lessons. We quickly learned about symptom assessment and pain relief but also the preciousness of life and how to let someone with so precious little time left ‘live’ as fully as possible. Right until dad’s last breath, he was filled with gratitude for all the care he received. Indeed, we all were.
“We are so lucky to have hospices that provide high-quality, innovative, world-class care. It is probable that only when we go through that process do we fully understand just how wide and deep provision is in the hospice movement. Hospices are not add-ons; they provide core services. Our hospices care for people with cancer, COPD, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Dementia amongst other illnesses. They provide day care, essential respite care and terminal care, while promoting clinical excellence. Hospices provide a holistic approach and involve psychological, social and spiritual support for the patient and their family.
Our hospices also play a significant advisory role for other health professionals on palliative care and provide bereavement care for those who have been left behind and need help to see which way is forward. That is a significant challenge for any healthcare provider.
“The demands on our hospices are increasing steadily as people are living longer. The hospice service is growing but the percentage of annual expenditure funded from Government sources is falling. Funding for these vital services is in no way keeping pace with demand.
“I believe that there are plans to release some funds to help address the funding crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and they will no doubt be gratefully received. However, the focus must be firmly on addressing the historic underfunding of Hospice services. The present funding methodology is flawed and operates without evidence base or up-to-date benchmarks. We need to find urgent, sustainable solutions.
Councillor Beattie, who seconded the motion, commented:
“Hospices are not asking the Department to meet all their costs, but just to give fair payment for services in line with patient demand. We must not forget that hospices are lifting the burden from the NHS which is why core funding is so important. If the situation is not addressed, families will miss out on these vital services at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.