Monday 22nd April 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on so ably leading this debate and setting the scene.

While it is important to recognise the great work done across the eastern region by East Anglia’s children’s hospices, in the Great Yarmouth and Waveney areas, as represented my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis) and me, there is at present a hospice vacuum. Throughout the rest of Suffolk and Norfolk, there are locally based hospices well embedded in and providing great services for their communities.

The good news is that plans are being carefully prepared to fill this vacuum and this void. A local partnership is evolving to build a local hospice led by St Elizabeth hospice, including the local NHS, councils, a community interest company, volunteers and fundraisers. For it to be successful, to open the hospice and then to run it, the national Government must join this partnership, and I hope my hon. Friend the Minister, who is currently not in her place, will in her summing up accept this invitation. The Waveney and Great Yarmouth areas desperately need a hospice. We have an ageing population and pockets of deprivation, and as Chris Whitty has highlighted, there are acute health inequalities in coastal communities that a hospice can help level out and remove.

As I have mentioned, a well-researched case for the hospice has now been prepared, though it is important to recognise the work done by so many over the years in supporting those in need of end of life care and their families—from the late Margaret Chadd, who founded East Coast hospice and had the vision of building a hospice on land bought at Gorleston, to Roberta Lovick, who founded the Louise Hamilton Centre, from which such great support is provided to patients with life-limiting conditions and their families; the James Paget University Hospital, where the Louise Hamilton Centre is based; and East Coast Community Healthcare, the Lowestoft-based community interest company that, in partnership with St Elizabeth, operates six specialist beds in Beccles Hospital, as well as providing care both in people’s homes and in care homes.

Building on the work of these local people and organisations, a framework is emerging through which a local hospice can be built. The cornerstone of this is, as we have heard, the Health and Care Act 2022, which sets out the legal requirement for ICBs to commission palliative and end of life care. The Norfolk and Waveney ICB has responded by carrying out a review of palliative and end of life care. This was completed last autumn, and it highlights the need for nine urgent and six medium to long-term actions. Last March, St Elizabeth hospice merged with East Coast hospice, and straightaway set about conducting a feasibility study into the viability of building up hospice facilities on the Gorleston site.

The study has just been completed, and the conclusion reached is that a hospice should be built in stages. Expressions of interest are now being invited from architects. That is an exciting landmark for which so many people have strived for many years. St Elizabeth is confident that it can successfully fundraise for a hospice capital appeal, but it is for the ongoing revenue cost of providing core clinical services for a full in-patient unit, as well as outreach community services, that national Government support is required. The Norfolk and Waveney ICB—indeed, all ICBs—need central Government support and a fundamental rebalancing of national policy, so that they can meet the projected growth in demand for palliative care.

It is good news that after so many false dawns over so many years we now have a coherent and well thought-through plan for filling the hospice void in the Waveney and Great Yarmouth area, but while we should be sanguine, we should also be realistic. We are not even at the starting point of the rest of England, as we have heard from other colleagues who have a hospice up and running—we do not. That is why the Government need to join the partnership that has evolved, and support Norfolk and Waveney ICB so that it can commission hospice services on a long-term, multi-year basis. I urge the Government to join us on that exciting journey.