I recognise and applaud the vital work of the NI Children’s Hospice and all hospices in Northern Ireland.
As requested by me, Department of Health officials have been engaged in detailed discussions this week, including engagement with NI Hospice.
It is clear to me that the financial pressures facing NI Children’s Hospice (NICH) go much deeper than any reduction of Departmental support.
This reduction involved the ending last summer of an additional but temporary annual payment of £170,000. This decision was notified to the NICH in June 2023 and took effect from September 2023 - resulting in an £85,000 reduction in this financial year.
I have today decided to reinstate this £85,000 funding for this year.
This payment is in addition to the core annual funding of £1.6m which my Department is providing directly to NICH this year. This core funding includes a £420,000 component which has not been recurrent, meaning it would have to be subject to confirmation each year. I can confirm that, going forward, this will be made recurrent, giving the Hospice greater certainty.
I am keenly aware that the financial challenges facing NICH go much deeper than this. Like all health care providers, it has encountered significantly rising running costs, reflecting inflationary pressures.
Regrettably, the NICH has advised my Department that the restoration of the full £170,000 for this year will not lead to the reversal of the service reduction made public this week.
The NICH and NI Hospice parent body will need to develop longer-term solutions, to which I am sure Government will want to be supportive.
Given the current absence of a budget for next year, and the well-documented financial uncertainties and challenges for Government, my Department is at the limit of what it can do right now.
I am also very conscious that other hospice organisations, and many other health and care providers, are also grappling with growing budget pressures and will be seeking further statutory finance.
I welcome the support and personal interest of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in relation to NICH’s position. I am also aware of the fact that other Northern Ireland Departments have provided financial support to NICH in the past.
I believe the long-term need for financial stability across the hospice sector would benefit from cross-Departmental input, helping to assist organisations in identifying sustainable ways forward.
Consequently, I have today written to the Finance Minister to seek further discussions between the charities and our two Departments.
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