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NHS financial reset sends worrying message to seriously ill children and families

News and comment

As reported yesterday in the Health Service Journal, NHS England has told integrated care boards, the NHS bodies responsible for planning and funding care in England, that they can spend some ring-fenced budgets meant for specific services elsewhere, as part of its financial reset. One of those areas is the children’s palliative care match funding scheme.

What is the match funding scheme?

The NHS Long Term Plan, published in 2019, saw NHS England commit to match funding local NHS bodies, previously known as clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), to increase investment in local children’s palliative and end-of-life care services. Since then, NHS England has allocated up to £7 million annually by 2023/24, when the match funding is set to end.

The funding was designed to fund children’s palliative care services provided by NHS Trusts, NHS Foundation Trusts, voluntary sector organisations like children’s hospices, or independent providers. We know that this funding has been instrumental in developing valuable support for children and young people living with life-limiting conditions across the country.

What impact will this have on providers of children’s palliative care?

It’s not immediately clear how this might affect services before the scheme ends, but the move sends a worrying message. ICBs are responsible for commissioning children’s palliative care. They have a legal duty to provide this care, yet in December last year, we published findings that showed that the amount of funding ICBs give to children’s palliative care varies wildly from region to region. In one area, that figure was £511 per child, and in another, it was as little as £28. ICBs aren’t held to account by NHS England in any substantive way.

NHS England must provide clarity

We’re calling on NHS England to clarify publicly what this means for vital palliative care services that seriously ill children and their families depend on. Services need a clear understanding and transparency to plan as best they can, amid rising costs of care, workforce shortages, and an estimated £300 million funding gap.

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