Struggling hospice in Cumbria will not affect care at Lancaster’s St John’s Hospice, chief exec says

St John's Hospice, Lancaster
St John's Hospice, Lancaster

The boss of Lancaster’s St John’s Hospice has reassured its supporters that care will not be compromised if it is called upon to help a struggling hospice in Cumbria.

It was announced this week that St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston is to temporarily close its in-patient care for three months because it cannot find a doctor to oversee the service.

It is the first time one of the UK’s 220 hospices has had to turn away those needing end of life care as a result of a shortage of medical staff.

Val Stangoe, St Mary’s chief executive, said the hospice’s rural location was causing problems in recruiting a new doctor.

It was reported that terminally ill patients from Cumbria who require round-the-clock medical attention in a hospice may have to go instead to St John’s, 39 miles – and an hour’s drive – away.

But St John’s chief executive Sue McGraw has said that any support given to the Ulverston hospice would not be to the detriment of the Lancaster district’s population.

“We are waiting to see if we will be asked to help,” she said.

“I was the chief executive there before I came to Lancaster and it’s just so sad to see them in this situation.

“We want to help but we have to be mindful that the people who raise the money for us want their money spent in our locality.”

Mrs McGraw emphasised that St John’s is unlikely to be put in a similar situation to St Mary’s.

“We have got a cracking team here and we spend a lot of money investing in them,” she said.

“I understand why St Mary’s have done what they have done but on my watch I will be desperately trying not to let that happen here.”

Mrs McGraw said she hopes the new medical school at Lancaster University will help boost the number of young doctors wanting to stay in Lancashire.

“We have got a great medical director and a great relationship with the trust and we work hard together so I cannot see what’s happened at St Mary’s happening here,” she added.

Carole Walford, the chief clinical officer for Hospice UK, said: “Nationwide there is a shortage of experienced palliative care doctors.

“There is no quick fix to address this, but it makes it even more important to support the key clinical staff that we have.”

Dr David Wrigley, the deputy chair and Cumbria representative of the British Medical Association, said: “For patients to be denied the right and proper care at the end of their lives because of staff shortages is untenable.

“Palliative care is absolutely vital for many terminally ill people. It is wholly unacceptable that at a time when patients and their families need the most comfort and care, the recruitment crisis in the NHS means they are being denied it, or at best being forced to receive alternative care further from home.”

Official figures show that the NHS in England has about 100,000 vacancies for staff, including 9,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses.