Shock for families as children's hospice set to close
Children's charity Acorns is to close one of its three hospices because of rising running costs and a drop in donations.
The charity will stop providing care at the unit from the end of September, if the proposal goes ahead.
The news was today being broken to families and members of staff by chief executive Toby Porter.
Acorns has three specialist children’s hospices, providing care and support to youngsters and their families from around the region including Shropshire, the West Midlands and Staffordshire.
The charity is currently supporting 233 families at its Walsall unit, which has been earmarked for closure. They will be offered the chance to attend either of the hospices in Birmingham and Worcester.
A total of 70 full-time and part-time staff at the Walstead Road hospice face losing their jobs. Mr Porter said it had been a “devastating” decision to make but one that would ensure the charity could continue providing high quality care for children for decades to come.
“It is a step we’ve taken with extreme regret, reluctance and heart-felt apology for the families and staff directly impacted,” he added. It costs the charity nearly £10 million every year to provide its services and it relies on fundraising for the bulk of this amount.
The charity says the cost of providing care at its three hospices is steadily rising every year and is currently outstripping it’s ability to raise all the fund it needs
During the past year it has also seen income from its network of more than 50 shops across the region and voluntary fundraising fall. The total amount left to the charity by supporters in their wills was also the lowest for many years – and £1.4m less than the previous year.
The shortfall has been made up from the charity’s reserves but officials say this is not sustainable, especially if income continues to fall. The funding crisis at Acorns mirrors difficulties faced by similar charities across the UK. They face rising costs and falling donations while only a small proportion of their funding comes from the NHS.
Mr Porter said: “Acorns has never had a particularly high charity reserve – our priority has always been giving care.
“Almost all of the money that has ever been donated to Acorns has gone out on children’s care. The flip-side of that is a low reserve which makes us highly sensitive to dips in income.
“Over the past year we’ve had a torrid time for fundraising and in our shops.
“We’ve spent far more on care than we’ve reaped back from our annual fundraising.”
The charity says there has also been a “gradual decline” in bed usage across all of its sites. It believes it can offer similar levels of occupancy from two hospices as it currently offers from three.
Directors and trustees compared all three hospices before proposing to shut the Walsall site, which opened in 1999.
Considerations included the lack of a large hydrotherapy pool. A feasibility study concluded that it would cost more than £1.5 million to build a suitable pool at Walsall. There is also less room for expansion in the future at the Black Country site due its proximity to greenbelt land.
Mr Porter said there had been “tears in the boardroom” as it became clear that the charity needed to close one of its hospices in order to continue to be sustainable in the future.
He said: “It is a really devastating proposal to have to make. Nobody who has ever been associated with Acorns would want to make a proposal to close a children’s hospice.
“We recognise the distress this will cause families – and that’s very difficult for us as a charity that exists to support that vulnerable cohort of children and families.”
The charity says it deeply regrets that families will be faced with “ inconvenience and longer travel times” to take children to its Birmingham or Worcester sites.
Staff will be talking to those affected to find out the likely impact of the proposed change of location and helping them through the transition.
“We are very confident that if they are prepared to travel the extra distance to Birmingham or Worcester, they will receive a service every bit as lovely as the one they are used to in Walsall,” said Mr Porter.
He said that also he aimed to give affected staff as much support as possible ahead of the closure and that he hoped local employers would help provide new opportunities.