Major new children’s palliative care strategy for Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Department of Health has published a new 10-year strategy for palliative and end of life care for children and young people entitled Providing high quality palliative care for our children: a strategy for children’s palliative and end-of-life care 2016-26.

The strategy recommends a series of actions to enhance the existing care and support available for children and young people with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and their families. To achieve this, the strategy contains 23 clear objectives that must be realised to transform children’s palliative care in Northern Ireland. A ‘New Care Model’ set out in the strategy identifies that the child, their family and carer must be at the centre of their care and that their care plan should be based on a holistic assessment of the child’s needs.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA thanked all the Health and Social Care (HSC) staff, staff at Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice, and all other organisations and individuals who work hard to provide the best possible care and support to children and their families.

The new strategy follows a public consultation in 2014, to which Together for Short Lives submitted evidence.

Responding to the publication of the strategy, Heather Weir, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Hospice said:

“We welcome this important strategy being published, which needs to be a milestone in the way in which children’s palliative care is planned and delivered in Northern Ireland. The New Care Model reflects the philosophy of care of children’s hospices, where we focus on the unique needs, wishes, hopes and fears of each child and family. A high proportion of the 1,300 children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions in Northern Ireland and their families are supported by our two children’s hospices and our Hospice at Home team. While we welcome the Minister's announcement regarding the strategy, we now call on the department to provide clarification around the plans for long-term, sustainable funding, to realise both the new strategy and to subsequently provide assurances around the future provision of long term statutory support which we so critically need to provide stable paediatric palliative services.'

Barbara Gelb OBE, Chief Executive of Together for Short Lives added:

“The strategy rightly recognises that children’s palliative care is an active approach to care which begins when a child’s needs are diagnosed or recognised and continues through their life, death and beyond. I am also pleased that the Northern Ireland Department of Health has recognised the needs of the whole family and has included bereavement care for those who are affected when a child dies. The challenge now for all those who plan, fund and provide children’s palliative care in Northern Ireland is to make sure that the new strategy transforms lives. I make an open offer to support all of them in their work to implement the strategy and to bring about the best quality of life and death for children with life-limiting conditions.

Together for Short Lives is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement the commitments we propose in our ‘Transforming the lives of children with life-shortening conditions’ document.

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