Government accused of shortchanging hospices

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Ministers have been accused of underfunding care for the dying through "shortchanging" hospices by £46m.

Ministers have been accused of underfunding care for the dying through "shortchanging" hospices by £46m.

Hospices, which have seen government funding fall from 35 per cent to 28 per cent since Labour came to power in 1997, have received less than £4m of a £50m pay-out promised by ministers in their flagship National Cancer Plan. A survey by the National Council for Hospice and Palliative Care Services has shown that in most areas of England no funds have been received by hospices and few are on track for the next financial year – the deadline to receive the money.

The survey of Cancer Networks, which co-ordinate implementation of cancer policies, found that less than £4m of the £50m promised by Alan Milburn in 1990 could be accounted for. Hospices called for an urgent investigation to find out where the money had gone. MPs accused the Government of a "scandalous" treatment of hospices, which are being forced to cut services because of a cash shortage.

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for older people, accused the Government of failing to "treat death with dignity". He said: "It is a scandal that the Department of Health is incapable of ensuring that earmarked funds reach hospice services," he said.

Most hospices are independent charities funded by donations, legacies and charity shops. They have to contribute £2.57 for every £1 committed by Government. Because of rising costs they have had to raise an extra £170m in recent years.

The Department of Health said that several improvements in funding were on track, including a commitment by the NHS to pay for ambulances to hospices, and pathology and pharmacy services. It confirmed, however, that the cash earmarked for palliative care may not reach hospices and could be absorbed into other budgets targeted at those who are terminally ill.

Ninety-five per cent of hospice beds are used by terminal cancer sufferers.