Trinity Choir performing at the Old Royal Naval College

Our annual carol concert took place on 2 December in the Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. 

This year’s moving address by Kate Heaps, Chief Executive reflects on the pressures faced by our hospice teams due to the increasing cost of living crisis and gives a realistic insight into the challenges that some of our patients are facing.

“Good Evening everyone, and thank you for joining us at our annual Carol concert to raise funds for Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice.

Thank you to our new Rector Reverend Robert Tobin, the choir and organist, to our readers and to the girl guides, as well as to our staff and volunteers who have helped to make this such a magical event.
Those of you who have been to this event before, will have heard me speak about how proud I am to lead our hospice, and you will have heard me talk about how the last few years have been exceptionally challenging for all of our staff, supporting people approaching the end of life and their families, as well as those who have been bereaved. The challenges don’t get any less as the pandemic moves into endemic, as we work even harder and smarter to keep up with the increasing need for our care and we innovate and develop to continue to provide evidence based, high quality, responsive support to as many people as who need it.

The current cost of living crisis puts an additional pressure on those that we are here to serve. A recent publication about the cost of dying from a national charity has identified that one in seven people who are dying are dying in poverty, and for those who are dying and are of working age, that’s 27%, over a quarter. This increases further for people who are marginalized due to their cultural heritage, disability and such. This year, we trebled the size of our social work team to help ensure that our team is able to keep up with the social and financial needs of those we provide holistic care for. It’s not enough to have a nurse providing expert symptom management, if you can’t afford to heat your home or eat, we can’t provide the specialist equipment many of our patients require (such as hospital beds and air mattresses), if they can’t afford to pay the additional costs of running them. So through our team, we support people to access additional grants and organisations, give them advice about the benefits they are entitled to and help them navigate access to support for their carers who may have to take time off work to support their loved one.

We are currently supporting a Mum in her 40’s who is in the late stages of cancer (I’ll call her Faith). Faith is also registered blind in one eye. Her husband now works part time so he can care for her and look after their 3 young children.

Trinity Choir performing at the Old Royal Naval College
Trinity Choir

Devastatingly, being cared for at home is causing incredible financial pressure. They are using more electricity, around the clock to run a specialist bed, mattress and oxygen concentrator, which provides home oxygen to help Faith manage her breathing. Plus the costs of simply heating the house and feeding their family is significant. The increasing costs and worry about managing is impacting the precious time they have left as a family.

Our social work team are doing everything they can – working with their energy provider to reduce their bills, and applying for grants on their behalf. They are even working with our charity shops to get toys and games for the children so that Dad can hide them away until Christmas. The team will do anything they can to lessen the burden. But the family are struggling.

For younger people, those with families, our support is invaluable in circumstances like this, but also for those for whom, perhaps money is less of a concern. I was humbled recently when I met with a long term supporter of the hospice and he shared his story about why, ten years on from his wife’s death, he is still supporting our hospice and encouraging their nearly adult children to think philanthropically, by setting up a charitable trust that they will administer when they reach adulthood. We are there for everyone, families who are able to support the hospice with generous gifts in their grief, and those who are not, who in turn benefit from the charitable giving we receive.

Another recent publication you may have seen in the news, reports of a national picture of gaps in out-of-hours care for people at the end of life, which in turn leads to unwanted and unnecessary hospital admissions near the end of life. Across the UK, 40% of people who are dying will attend the emergency department at least once in their last month, and this is more likely in the overnight and weekend period. I’m pleased to say that across Greenwich and Bexley our hospice supports people 24/7 at home, but inevitably there are still those who attend A&E, perhaps because they aren’t yet known to our services, because of carer distress or because they are misdirected by 111 or other services. That’s why our truly integrated care, with the hospice’s hospital-based palliative care team is so important. A team from our staff were recently at a national conference with other hospices, Charlotte one of our hospital team was there. She noted how exceptional this model is, and how lucky our local community are to have support from the hospice, even when they are in hospital. By working together across our services, we are able to get people into a more appropriate setting as quickly as possible, that might be back home, it might be into our hospice inpatient unit, but either will be a quieter, calmer setting, away from the busyness of a hospital ward and the risks that being in hospital brings.

We recently cared for a woman called Yvonne on our inpatient unit recently who had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Her partner has since told us that the hospice team gave her her old Yvonne back – “She had a smile and was happy – not burdened by pain and illness.” She said that was the gift the hospice gave them.

Our 24/7 support also extends 365 days a year, it costs us 10 million to provide this special care every year, and with only around £4M coming from our local NHS, we have to rely on the generosity of our community to raise the remaining £6M. I find it incredible that each year we seem to manage to pull it off, but with the loyalty of our supporters and the hard work of our fundraising and retail staff and volunteers, we do.

This Christmas, our team of staff and volunteers will be supporting those in most need wherever they are, and as you are enjoying your Christmas, hopefully with those you love, you should feel proud that your support this evening and throughout the year has helped our team to help local dying people also be surrounded by love this Christmas.

Thank you once again, and have a peaceful and joyous Christmas.”

Kate Heaps, Chief Executive
Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice

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