Staff and families share how Ashgate Hospicecare helped loved ones say goodbye during Covid-19 pandemic as charity faces funding challenge
Chesterfield’s Ashgate Hospicecare is facing long-term funding challenges, despite playing a vital role in helping families say goodbye to their terminally ill loved ones during the Covid-19 crisis.
The charity said they are facing a ‘now or never’ moment for end-of-life funding as report from Sue Ryder highlights long-term funding challenge faced by hospices.
Ashgate Hospicecare have reiterated the importance of adequate and long-term funding for hospices, after the Modelling demand and costs for palliative care services in England report found that demand for such services is set to increase by 58 per cent over the next ten years.
The analysis also revealed that independent hospices, such as Ashgate, only receive around one third of the money required to fund its end-of-life services from the government, despite the running costs of the sector estimated to be £947 million a year between now and 2030.
Sue Ryder is calling on the government to commit to covering 70 per cent of the costs of hospice provision – or else the sector will be required to raise £597 million every year in order to keep hospices open.
Last year, Ashgate Hospicecare had to ask for voluntary redundancies during the pandemic, before an eleventh-hour funding agreement from Derby and Derbyshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group avoided the compulsory job losses which would have been made this January.
Chief Executive Barbara-Anne Walker said: “The findings from this report are shocking but not surprising.
"We would not fund maternity care in this way so why during a pandemic are we putting such a low value on end-of-life care?
"The way in which palliative care is funded in this country is not sustainable and hospices have been subject to chronic under-funding for years.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need to have realistic conversations about how palliative and end-of-life care is funded in this country.
"With shops closed and fundraising activities scaled back or cancelled, hospices are finding themselves ever more dependent on the goodwill of their local communities.
"This is a ‘now or never’ moment for the Government who have an opportunity to do the right thing, step forward and help tackle the funding crisis that is facing hospices across the country.”
The Chesterfield hospice opened its doors and cared for end-of-life Covid-19 patients last year, initially dedicating a separate wing on its 21-bedded inpatient unit but then increasing this to two wings when demand doubled during the second wave.
Staff were redeployed from other areas of the hospice to bolster staffing levels on the inpatient unit, as part of a system wide response to support the NHS and free up hospital beds from Chesterfield Royal.
The chief executive commented: “Without us hundreds of thousands of people would miss out on the expert care they deserve, care that the NHS simply cannot deliver due to lack of resources and capabilities."
Charli Liszka, 29, who works as a Ward Sister at Ashgate Hospicecare, explained how difficult it was for staff when the virus crisis first hit almost a year ago.
"Myself and my colleagues on the ward were very worried, apprehensive and nervous about what was happening", she added.
"We were really unsure of what to expect with all the PPE, how to correctly wear it and how to manage the patients.
"We've looked after them, didn’t have an outbreak and we've just stepped up to the challenge so much.
"The only way I can describe it, it was like an inhale of the highest point and then an exhale."
The charity currently has no Covid-19 patients after the number of residents contracting the virus came down and people were discharged.
But the 29-year-old healthcare worker shared the challenges staff faced in June 2019 when the advice surrounding personal protective equipment was changing on an almost daily basis.
Charli commented: “I'd have Monday to Tuesday at work and feel like I was on top of everything and then I'd have two days off, come back and everything would be different.
"As a senior member of staff trying to manage telling people what to do when you're not quite sure yourself, was a really difficult way of adapting to work.
"But we allowed visitors to come at the end of life to see their loved ones, because we wanted to maintain that families need that closure of seeing their loved ones before they've died."
The hospice previously had a policy of open visitors for every patient before the pandemic, but were forced to isolate that to one visitor during the ongoing crisis.
Staff at the charity have all now been vaccinated and workers self test for Covid-19 before they come on duty to prevent transmitting the virus.
As lockdown rules begin to be eased over the next few months, Charli said: "The light is at the end of the tunnel now and people can sense that.”
Chesterfield resident, Sanjoy Sen, whose mother Ashoka was cared for by Ashgate Hospicecare, shared how the charity made sure she was looked in her final days.
Ashoka was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and received the all-clear after treatment - but in June 2018 the cancer had returned and she was given just six months to live.
The 46-year-old said: “Before my mum’s diagnosis, I didn’t fully understand what hospices did.
"I assumed that they were just places where people went in their final weeks of life.
“What I discovered was that they are warm and positive places where people eventually end their lives as comfortably as possible.
“Most importantly, my mum was rarely alone.
"So many friends and family, whom we’d lost contact with, got back in touch and they were able to visit mum any time at the hospice in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
"My mum was so well cared-for and loved in her final months thanks to Ashgate Hospicecare.
"The staff helped me to deal with the situation and took away a lot of the fear for me.”