Action on Norfolk hospice bed shortage

The shortage of hospice beds which allow people to choose where to die with dignity was highlighted by a charity last night as work on a new multi-million pound hospice in Norfolk officially began.

Richard Shaw, chief executive of The Norfolk Hospice, has said the area the charity covers is one of the most 'deprived' in the country in terms of the level of hospice care.

He has also told the EDP that North and West Norfolk and parts of the Fens is the largest area in the country that does not have a full service hospice and has spoken of his 'frustrations' of unfair funding.

It comes as around 30 people, including West Norfolk mayor Colin Sampson, gathered in a field in Hillington, near King's Lynn, yesterday to celebrate the cutting of the turf of the charity's new hospice which will provide 12 inpatient beds.

Mr Shaw said: 'The people of Norfolk and the Fens urgently need and truly deserve the very highest standard of hospice care for everyone who requires it.

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'Currently the NHS has its own hospice at Pricilla Bacon Lodge in Norwich which is an excellent facility for people in Norwich and the surrounding suburbs.

'But move to the north or to the west and the palliative care support is provided by a combination of six beds at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and our hospice.

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'We believe this is not enough for the population we serve and that at least 20 beds are needed. This is why the start of construction works for our new hospice is a significant event for end-of-life care in our area.'

He added: 'Funding is also inequitable across the county but we are working with the new commissioning structures to find a balance, to provide the necessary service.

'The new commissioning structures are settling and whilst the changes have been frustrating, we are making progress.'

The charity supports more than 280 people every month at its current hospice in Snettisham and has so far raised �1.3m to help build the new facility but still needs a further �2.7m to finish the work.

He continued: 'We all have a right to die in a place of our choice and most of us would choose to die at home.

'Until we are able to provide a full 'hospice at home' and inpatient facility this will not be consistently available and going to hospital becomes the only other option.

'We think that people in our part of the county have a right to that choice and that is why we are building a new hospice for the future.

'But this project will only come to fruition with the support of our benefactors and the communities we serve. We want the people of Norfolk to get behind us to help us provide the services this area needs and I am confident this will happen.'

The turf was cut by Lady Jane Dawnay who is the president of the charity's fundraising appeal and whose land the new hospice will take residence on in two years time.

Other people at the ceremony included a number of patients, patrons, trustees, and staff from Norwich-based contractor R G Carter.

Lady Jane said: 'There is a big black hole in the area for this kind of facility currently and I think this area is one of the last places in the UK not to have this type of hospice.

'This will be a very important centre for the future of end-of-life care in this area and this is really the beginning of something special.

'This ceremony is something we have been building to for a number of years and I know there have been some people who thought this day would never come.

'However the sound of the digger busily working and me cutting the turf is proof we are getting on with it.'

Norfolk farmer Ian Mason is also part of the team raising the amount needed to get the hospice up-and-running by 2013.

He said: 'Coming here on such a beautiful day and seeing what it's going to give the people of Norfolk, you can only be left feeling that the county must rally round to help.

'We need to raise another �2.7m which I think is achievable because there are a lot of wealthy people in Norfolk who want to help fund the right project that excites people and I think this ticks both boxes.

'I think it is unfair that Norwich has a hospice and that there is such a large area across the county which has little or no access to the same level of care.'

Keith Ewing, spokesman for Macmillan Cancer Support, added: 'Too many cancer patients are dying in hospital against their wishes.

'Without the right support, this experience can be traumatic for patients and their families. Every cancer patient should have the right to die in the place of their choosing.

'We believe the NHS and charities should work hard to make this a reality irrespective of where patients live.

'It will significantly reduce emergency hospital admissions and enable patients to fulfil their end of life care wishes.'

Mr Shaw added The Norfolk Hospice could not develop further on Tapping House in Snettisham which is why it looked elsewhere to build a new hospice and eventually settled on Hillington.

He said: 'Snettisham has been our home for 27 years and it will be sad for us to leave.

'The people of Snettisham and surrounding villages have been wonderful supporters and proud to have us as part of their community.

'We hope that residents in Hillington will feel the same as this community spirit and neighbourly attitude is what Norfolk people are all about.'

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