The health care system in the UK is something to be rightly proud of and at the end of our days - palliative care - to support us and our families in our greatest time of need is a crucial element of that system.
How we fund palliative care in the Western Isles has come under the spotlight in the last few months due to the question of appropriate funding for the Bethesda Nursing Home and Hospice in Stornoway.
Bethesda comprises of 21 nursing home beds for heavily dependent elderly, a nine bedded respite unit and four single hospice rooms, where specialist care is given free of charge, to anyone with an incurable disease at any stage of their illness.
This much-loved nursing home and hospice enjoys great public support and depends on charitable donations in order to carry out its work.
The Gazette highlighted the funding issue back in June, when concerns were raised that Bethesda may not be able to continue its vital work due to its financial settlement from the Integrated Joint Board (IJB).
At that time the Leader of the Council’s SNP Councillors, Gordon Murray, said: “The Health Board has underfunded this important facility in our community for 11 years and it looks like the IJB are minded to continue this injustice.”
Six weeks on from that story and it has now been confirmed that a new funding offer is on the table for Bethesda to consider.
A spokesperson for the Islands’ health authority said this week: “NHS Western Isles has worked closely with Bethesda Hospice over the years to ensure that the best possible outcomes are being achieved by both parties, and at each review, agree the level of funding for the next period.
“We have been in discussion with Bethesda over the last period about a new Service Level Agreement and an improved funding offer has been made.
“The Bethesda Board is currently considering this offer, which is sensitive to the financial position of both organisations. We remain committed to a positive outcome.”
Ahead of this week’s new funding offer a statement from the Bethesda Board detailed the increasingly difficult situation being faced by the care organisation : “Since 1990, under Government documentation, NHS Western Isles were obliged to fund 50% of Hospice running costs. Bethesda Hospice opened in 1992 and has provided specialist palliative care in our community since.
“The Health Board has contributed the same amount of funding to the Hospice for the last 10 years. There has been no uplift for rising costs or inflation. This deficit in funding has worsened each year and now they only fund 30% of the running costs.
“This means that Bethesda are currently funding 70%. This can only be met by increased fundraising and this is not sustainable long term.
“Under the constitution of the IJB, palliative care is their responsibility.
“The Hospice is well supported by the community and we feel this reflects the care that is given to patients and their families.
“The community are horrified at the thought of losing the only specialist palliative care service in the Western Isles.
“The Hospice provides for patients, families and friends, giving the opportunity for treatment, care, time together and a ‘lightening of the load’ that can feel heavy when unsupported.
“We are especially grateful to the public for their concern and support, and for being passionate about keeping Bethesda at the heart of the community.”
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan is also lending his support for the better funding of services at Bethesda.
He told the Gazette:“Over the course of the last week I have had many people in touch about the future of Bethesda.
“The work that Bethesda does in the community in terms of supporting those with full-time care needs, including those at the end of their lives and requiring palliative care, is absolutely invaluable.
“I believe we are lucky to have this service and that we cannot afford to lose it.”
The Isles’ MSP added: “It is clearly wrong that Bethesda has not had an uplift in support from the Health Board since 2011, and I am troubled about the effect of this underfunding to their finances.”
The Bethesda Trustees are meeting this week to consider the new funding offer.
However, given the chronic underfunding of the hospice, it remains to be seen whether the new offer will prove acceptable.