Wales’ hospices and the children they care for deserve better support from the Welsh Government
Peredur Owen Griffiths, Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East
Something unusual happened in the Senedd just before the summer recess. Blink and you may have missed it but in a rare moment of contrition, the Labour Government Minister admitted to some shortcomings.
The surprising admission from Eluned Morgan MS came during answers to a question I submitted on state support for the Tŷ Hafan and Tŷ Gobaith hospices who look after some of the most seriously ill children in Wales.
During the session, the Health Minister acknowledged that her government needed “to do better” on paediatric palliative care.
While it may be rare for any Minister in Wales to acknowledge failings within their department or the government as a whole, it is easy to see why Eluned Morgan had no option but to come to this conclusion.
Children’s hospices in Wales currently receive less than 10% of their funding from the state. This is woefully behind other countries in the UK.
For example, children’s hospices in England receive 21% of their funding from the UK Government. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, the differences are even starker where funding for children’s hospices runs at 25% and 50% respectively.
Tŷ Hafan in the south and Tŷ Gobaith in the north have been able to provide such a fantastic service over the years largely thanks to the generosity of donations from the public and the business community.
But there is so much more they could do with improved and more secure forms of funding.
According to Tŷ Hafan, an estimated 3,600 children in Wales are living with a life-limiting condition. Up to 800 of these children have ongoing palliative care needs which require contact with hospital services but only around half access respite at children’s hospices due to limited funds.
To provide an example of how the current funding arrangements are hindering the level of care for seriously ill children in Wales, if children’s hospices in Wales were to be funded by government to the same level as hospices in Scotland then they could support each family with an additional seven nights of respite a year.
That would make a huge difference in the lives of the children and family that are supported.
We must also bear in mind how difficult the last 18 months have been for the charity sector in general. Shops have been largely closed, events have been cancelled and the disposable incomes have been hit hard meaning many people who would normally donate to charity on a regular basis have been unable to do so.
With so many sources of income drying up, charities across the board have endured a torrid time. Given our children’s hospices are so reliant on charity for their day-to-day running, their calls for more state funding have taken on a greater urgency.
So what happens next? After her acknowledgement that the government needed to do better, the Health Minister said during answers to my question in July that a review of the current arrangements would take “three to four months” and would be ready to publish “in the autumn.” She also said they will “be sharing that proposal with stakeholders” in the meantime.
The results of that review are yet to be seen but one thing is clear; the palliative care sector for children in Wales has waited long enough to be placed upon a firm, financial footing.
The hospices and their amazing staff deserve better – and so do the children and families they care for.
Following the summer recess, you can be sure this topic will be returned to and that all eyes will be on the Labour Government to see how they respond to this situation.