Care Minister Caroline Dinenage MP has told MPs that officials are working to end confusion about how much funding children’s hospices (England) are likely to receive as a result of the Long Term Plan. The commitment came at a Westminster Hall debate yesterday (29 January) on support for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions and their families. The debate had been secured by Jim Shannon MP, the DUP’s Health Spokesperson and a Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Children Who Need Palliative Care.
The minister was responding to a series of questions from MPs, including Jim Shannon, Antoinette Sandbach, Catherine McKinnell (Co-Chair of the APPG) and Julie Cooper (Labour Shadow Health Minister). All highlighted the fact that, in an announcement on 27 December 2018, NHS England said it would increase children’s hospice funding from £11million to £25million as part of the Long Term Plan. However, paragraph 3.41 of the Long Term Plan states that NHS England will increase its contribution by match-funding clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) who commit to increase their investment in local children’s palliative and end of life care services including children’s hospices.
Caroline Dinenage said “As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, we know that children’s palliative and end of life care has not kept pace with cost or inflation…I understand (MPs’) confusions about the different amounts that have been mentioned and the issues around that. Department officials are currently working with NHS England to clarify exactly what the numbers are here and exactly what that means, but I am very clear that children’s hospice funding is absolutely vital and we have to ensure they get the money that they need – and that money must increase on what it currently is.”
Responding to an intervention from Catherine McKinnell, the minster continued: “My understanding from the Long Term Plan was that that was an increase in funding for children’s hospices – and I wouldn’t support anything that saw anything other than that.”
Reacting to the debate, Andy Fletcher, Chief Executive of Together for Short Lives, said:
“I welcome the minister’s commitment to make clear what the recent NHS England funding announcements mean for children’s hospices and all children’s palliative care services. I hope that the Long Term Plan will lead to the whole range of statutory and voluntary sector services that children and families rely on, including those in hospital, children’s hospices and the community, being funded more equitably and sustainably. However, I am clear that this should be in addition to, and not in place of, proper funding for lifeline children’s hospices which are already dealing with a greater number of children with increasingly complex life-limiting conditions.”
The debate provided MPs with an important opportunity to ask the minister what steps the government is taking to implement the recommendations of the APPG’s recent inquiry. This found that the extent to which the end of life care choice commitment is being met for children is patchy and depends on where in England families live. Antoinette Sandbach and Catherine McKinnell asked what action ministers could take to make it clear to NHS and local authorities that they have a role in planning and funding short breaks for seriously ill children. Carolyn Harris MP described the impact of her son Martin’s death on her and reiterated her call for the government to bring forward the Children’s Funeral Fund for England. Stephen Lloyd asked what action could be taken to boost the number of children’s palliative care consultants in England. David Linden MP asked for an update on work to end the baby benefit bar.