Never has there been a greater need, nor imminent urgency for growth in the hospice movement. Uvedale Tristram talks to a woman who is helping chart the course of these places of sojourn for the terminally
INTEND to devote the rest of my life to the hospice movement," the Duchess of Norfolk told the Catholic Herald after she had launched a new national charity — Help the Hospices.
Help the Hospices has appealed for money to support hospices in Britain. It is concerned about their greatest need — running costs. No funds are going into bricks and mortar. Of the existing units, 40 are independent of the state and have no links with any particular charity.
Six are Sue Ryder Hospices and 12 are run by the Marie Curie Foundation. Twenty Four are run by the National Health Service. A further 30 are being planned.
DHSS help for these independents varies from nil to 70 per cent. Allocations vary enormously from year to year and from place to place. Long term planning is almost impossible. Hospices have a hand to mouth existence.
"Help the Hospices seeks to provide a lifeline for the deprived units, some of which are in danger of being shut down for lack of money to meet essential day to day costs," the Duchess said.
She wants to see an end to the situation. "I feel strongly that the NHS should do more to help dying patients," she told the Herald, "Never forget that the hospices patients are all — or nearly all — NHS patients. They free beds in NHS hospitals for those who can be cured."
But even with much more generous DHSS funding, the gap is unlikely ever to be filled. "Hospices are bound to depend upon the packets and the hearts of those who understand the needs of those who would otherwise die alone, friendless and in pain."
Her involvement began with her appeal for St. Joseph's Hospice and for its new training wing, recently opened by the Queen. "The hospice idea has now taken over my life," she said.
The DHSS has shown considerable interest and Help the Hospices has held discussions with Mr Kenneth Clark, the Health Minister.
The goodwill is there but the Department does not feel itself able to overcome its refusal to direct local health authorities to spend specified Sums upon hospices.
Running costs must cover much more than beds. For example, they must pay for home care — an essential part of the service. This includes visits by qualified staff to see terminal patients at home, to advise on their care and to provide for their transfer to a hospice when this is necessary. Funds must be found for day centres with occupational therapy and other equipment.
Added to all this is the need for bereavement counselling for spouses and parents and other close relatives — a task requiring specialised training and enormous sensitivity. Volunteers man some of the main lifelines of the hospice movement. They are drivers and cooks, counsellors and friends of patients. All undergo special training.
No patient is asked to pay and there is no means lest. No one is asked what religion he or she professes.
President of the new charity is Dame Cicely Saunders, already well known in the hospice movement, especially for her work at St. Christopher's, Sydenham.
With the Duchess of Norfolk are two co-chairmen. Professor Eric Wilkes of the Sheffield Hospice is the author of the government commissioned Wilkes Report on terminal care which is recognised as the standard work on the subject. He is joined by Professor Peter Quilliam, chairman of the BMA Board of Science and Education.
The Duchess is appealing for funds to support the existing hospices with their much needed work.
Help the Hospices opens up a well of love in the true Latin sense of "Caritas" to those who desperately need it. Readers who want to help with money or ideas should write to the Duchess of Norfolk C/O BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1.