Sue Ryder, one of the UK’s biggest providers of end of life care, has warned it may have to close its hospices after the coronavirus crisis blew a £12m hole in its budget.
Each year the charity looks after more than 5,000 people at the end of their lives but it has now said that without a government bailout it will have to close its hospices and hospice-at-home services within the coming two or three months and send the people it cares for back to the NHS.
It is just the latest charity to warn of a grave financial crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen the closure of charity shops, the cancellation of fundraising events and slumps in investment funds in the stock market crash. UK charities have estimated they face a £4bn shortfall over three months, with organisations including Cancer Research UK, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society all warning of significant drops in income.
Sue Ryder has lost £2m from its investment fund and £440,000 in monthly retail profits while it is still paying rents on many of its units.
The cancellation of the London Marathon, which was due to happen on 26 April, cost it £200,000 in lost fundraising and in total it is facing a £12m shortfall in the next three months. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the charity was facing financial strains with the proportion of its income from the NHS falling from about 55% in 2012 to 30%.
“To close at this time would be crazy,” said Heidi Travis, chief executive of Sue Ryder. “We know we ought to be taking patients from NHS trusts. [The people we look after] would have to go back to the NHS, including the hundreds of people being cared for in the community. At this time it would be ridiculous.”
Alongside Marie Curie, the other major provider of hospice care, Hospice Care UK and Together for Short Lives, a children’s charity, Sue Ryder has been calling for a £200m rescue package from the Department of Health and Social Care to see the hospice sector through the next three months.
On Sunday, Matt Hancock said he is putting more money into hospices. The health secretary also proposed that Premier League footballers “club together and support our hospices and support the national effort that we’re all in”.
But with no announcement on funding yet made, Sue Ryder has now launched a public appeal for funds.
“The country will lose its hospices at a time when they are needed most,” said Travis. “This is a plea and no less, we cannot wait any longer. Our doctors and nurses are working night and day to provide end of life care to more people, now and in the coming weeks, than ever before. We are a critical frontline support service in the fight against coronavirus yet we are on the brink of closure.”
Carrie-Anne Taitt, 30, a mother of two with incurable cancer receiving care at home in Gloucestershire from Sue Ryder, said the prospect of the charity closing services was “hugely scary”.
“The government needs to step in and make sure we are protected and we don’t end up getting more poorly and putting more strain on the NHS,” she said. “Otherwise it is a vicious circle.”
She said that the home carers provided by the charity had become “a huge part of my life”, especially now that her children, aged three and six, are not able to go out to school or child care.
“If they don’t come, it would be a major stress,” she said. “We desperately, desperately need them.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Palliative and end of life care services, including hospices, play a hugely important role in providing care for thousands at the most difficult time, and last year the prime minister announced a £25m cash injection to protect the crucial service they provide.
“We are absolutely committed to keeping hospices open during this time and are working closely with the NHS, Together for Short Lives and Hospice UK on an appropriate national response. We will be setting out our hospice support package shortly.”