Opinion: Time the NHS coughed up for hospices

Dame Cicely Saunders set up St Christopher's Hospice, the world's first purpose-built hospice, in 1967. St Christopher's was founded on the principles of combining expert pain and symptom relief with wider social and spiritual care to patients and their families and friends.

Since then, the hospice movement has grown significantly. But funding for hospice care varies dramatically and contentiously, from majority funding from the NHS to almost 100 per cent funding by charities.

The charitable provenance of hospices stretches back as far as the fourth century, when they were places of rest for travellers. Today, more than 200 charities in the UK provide the majority of hospice care, despite the existence of the NHS.

Simply put, a considerable number of hospices are reliant on voluntary income. The charity Help the Hospices is the leading advocate for these voluntary organisations and provides training, education, grant aid, advice and national fundraising events and activities. As we all know, voluntary income doesn't grow on trees, and the competition for it grows year by year.

Earlier this year, a Westminster Hall debate on funding for hospices clearly showed cross-party recognition of the pressures on hospices to attract voluntary income. Although the level of Government funding has increased in cash terms in recent years, the gap between what hospices in England spend on NHS patients and what the NHS contributes is estimated at between £150m and £200m - and it is widening.

Hospices are not seeking 100 per cent funding from central government; rather, Help the Hospices campaigns on issues such as ensuring state contracts are an appropriate length and cover a proportion of hospices' overheads.

Britain is an acknowledged leader in providing palliative care. Much of this reputation can be attributed to the role of the third sector. Is it right that there is still such a gap between what hospices spend and what the NHS contributes? I hope the Government's End of Life Care Strategy for England will close this gap.

- John Knight is assistant director, policy and campaigns, at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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