Hospice says care unsustainable under current Govt funding

Hospice New Zealand says it needs more Government funding or struggling facilities may need to reduce their services or shut down altogether.

Last year, 20,000 patients were cared for in hospices across the country.

With the Government funding half the cost, facilities nationwide are expected to make up the $87 million shortfall needed to run their services.

But, hospice fundraising efforts were hit hard during the pandemic.

Leon Epapara is one of those patients relying on hospice care.

At 42, he has multiple myeloma, an aggressive bone cancer.

“They’ve helped me a heck of a lot with feeling better and making me feel good about myself.”

He says he’s lucky to be in the care of the hospice Lower Hutt.

Epapara is a keen musician who has been playing the guitar since the age of 12. He says music takes him to a better, more loving place.

At his local facility, he receives regular music sessions which, he says, help him a lot, both spiritually and physically, by keeping his fingers active.

Epapara is currently working on a new composition with the help of his music therapist.

“It’s a song with my family about love and never to forget me if anything happens like, when I pass, if I pass on. Yeah, so something left for my kids,” he says.

But, with hospice facilities struggling to stay afloat, there are fears others like Epapara may soon not get the same level of care.

“In the last five years the cost of delivering hospice services increased by over $40 million annually and Government funding has increased by just $18 million,” Hospice New Zealand’s acting chief executive Wayne Naylor says.

“It’s not going to be sustainable; we can’t keep asking the community for more and more money to fill a significant funding gap. There is a risk that hospices will have to reduce services, there is a potential that hospices may have to close their doors we would not like to see that happen.”

Even one of the country’s largest facilities, the Tauranga Waipuna Hospice, is finding times tough.

“We’re getting to a point where our fundraising has well and truly maxed out,” says the Waipuna Hospice chief executive Richard Thurlow.

Covid-19 restrictions over the past two years meant few in-person fundraising events have been possible and hospice-run second-hand shops have been closed for long periods.

“And we have other pressures of pay parity wars happening in DHBs which makes it quite competitive in attracting staff and retaining staff,” Thurlow says.

All of this, while the demand for hospice care is growing in New Zealand according to both Naylor and Thurlow.

Hospice New Zealand says demand for palliative care is expected to increase 50% by 2040.

“There are a lot of people in New Zealand who are dying without good access to hospice care and particularly people who live in rural areas. We need to be reaching out to more people, expanding our services, not looking at the threat of having to reduce services because of funding shortages,” Naylor says.

Health Minister Andrew Little declined to comment, referring 1News to a three-month-old statement to TVNZ’s Q+A, where he said extra funding was given to hospices during the pandemic, and the funding model would change under the coming health reforms.

“We’re heading into a period of uncertainty,” says Thurlow who’s concerned about how these reforms will help hospices and the funding they receive.

For patients like Epapara, hospice care is essential.

“I wish I was a billionaire or something and I could drop that money, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Epapara says.

Naylor says the year ahead looks bleak and the funding gap is expected to get worse “as the global economic situation is dramatically escalating the cost of delivering services”.

“Hospices, I think, are seen as a nice to have in the health system and they shouldn’t be they’re an essential part of the continuum of life to death.

“They need to be funded as a critical service which is how they’ve been recognized about Covid,” he says.

Epapara will feature his new song in a campaign for hospice awareness week running from May 16.

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