Northern Ireland

Pressures facing children’s hospice go deeper than Stormont funding loss – Swann

The Health Minister said he had written to Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald to seek discussions on providing long-term stability for hospices.

The Health Minister said the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice had encountered significantly rising running costs, reflecting inflationary pressures
Minister of Health Robin Swann The Health Minister said the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice had encountered significantly rising running costs, reflecting inflationary pressures (David Young/PA)

Financial pressures facing the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice go deeper than any withdrawal of Stormont support, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Answering an urgent oral question at the Assembly, Mr Swann also said he had written to Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald to seek discussions on providing long-term stability for hospices.

Last week, the hospice said it was considering cutting bed places due to pressures on its funding.

The Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice is located in Newtownabbey
Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice funding cuts The Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice is located in Newtownabbey (Liam McBurney/PA)

The charity cited a loss of state funding and other challenges presented by the cost-of-living crisis.

The hospice, which is located in Newtownabbey, provides specialist palliative care for more than 350 babies, children and their families every year.

The organisation also said its position over reducing some services remained unchanged despite an intervention from Mr Swann to reinstate funding.

The Health Minister told MLAs on Monday: “It is clear to me that the financial pressures facing the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice go much deeper than any reduction of departmental support.”

Mr Swann said the Department of Health had last year ended a temporary payment of £170,000 to the hospice.

He added: “That resulted in a reduction of £85,000. I took the decision on Friday to reinstate that funding in full for this year.

“This payment is in addition to the core annual funding of £1.6 million which my department is providing directly this year.

“That core funding also included £420,000 which hadn’t been recurrent, meaning it would have to be subjected to confirmation each year.

“I can also confirm that going forward this will be made recurrent, giving the hospice greater certainty.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath called for a plan to stabilise the future of the hospice
Brexit SDLP MLA Colin McGrath called for a plan to stabilise the future of the hospice

He added: “I am keenly aware the financial challenges facing the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice go much deeper than this.

“Like all healthcare providers, it has encountered significantly rising running costs, reflecting inflationary pressures.

“Regrettably, the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice has advised my department that the restoration of the full £170,000 for this year will not lead to the reversal of the service reduction made public.”

Mr Swann said the hospice would need to develop “longer-term solutions”, adding his department was “at the limit of what it can do”.

He added: “I believe the long-term need for financial stability across the whole hospice sector would benefit from cross-departmental input to assist organisations in finding sustainable ways forward and, consequently, I have written to the Finance Minister to seek further discussions between the charities and departments.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath asked the Health Minister to come back with a plan to fortify and enhance hospice services in the short and medium-term.

The NI Children’s Hospice said it had been running with an underlying financial deficit
Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice funding cuts The NI Children’s Hospice said it had been running with an underlying financial deficit (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Monday, the hospice said it was “grateful for and reassured by” its core funding becoming fully recurrent, which would provide “greater confidence for the future”.

But it said that with “diminishing reserves, action must be taken”, and the plan to cut beds remained unchanged.

“NI Hospice has been running with an underlying deficit which we have reduced in the past 12 months – however, with diminishing reserves, action must be taken,” it said in a statement.

“We very much regret the proposed further reconfiguration planned for April 2024 but recognise its necessity for our sustainability journey.

“Despite these challenges, we remain committed to working hard to support all families utilising hospice service in the way that best serves their needs.

“We appreciate the minister’s positive approach to seeking cross-departmental input. We believe collaborative efforts can pave the way for sustainable solutions and look forward to working with him in the coming days and weeks in delivering for the hospice sector.”

The hospice said it was considering reducing capacity from seven beds across the week, to running six beds from Monday to Friday and three beds at the weekend.