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Hospice care has to change focus after cost of living and pandemic impacts its income.

With the rising cost of living set to continue, the drive to buy from charity shops has never been stronger. At the same time, however, regular cash donations are being cancelled on a weekly basis as people begin to struggle financially and review their spending habits.

York charity St Leonard’s Hospice explains how the recent pandemic, followed by the shock to the world economy and surge in consumer demand, has impacted its services.

Dawn Clements, director of income generation at St Leonard’s Hospice in York, reveals the charity had its most successful Saturday trading day in history last weekend. St Leonard’s shops brought in more than £10,000 in one day across its 12 charity shops in and around York, making it one of the best days ever.

Dawn said: “I think it was the change in weather. It got really cold so people were coming into the shops to buy winter coats and jumpers which are a little bit higher value than summer outfits.

As the charity becomes more reliant on our retail income, this is a good thing.

Problems during the pandemic and the cost of living difficulties have meant donations to charities have suffered across the country. The Charity Commission said the COVID pandemic affected service delivery, fundraising income and staffing issues across most charities.

Emma Johnson, chief executive at St Leonard’s explained: “Palliative care services were a vital part of the emergency response during the pandemic and here at St Leonard’s we were able to shift our services towards caring and supporting people in their homes.

“At the start there was a risk that our role as a care provider could go unrecognised by Government. Some Hospices weren’t seen as essential to provide front-line NHS services initially and it’s true to say we felt overlooked.

“With the closure of charity shops, paused fundraising and loss of volunteer’s support, there was an immense strain on our income and our staff. Hospice UK successfully lobbied the Government to get some emergency funding. At the same time were dealing with our own personal difficulties and the emotional upheaval of families of our patients. It was incredibly difficult.”

St Leonard’s dealt with the speed of change and continues to offer care to people at home, expanding its existing Hospice@Home service. This service is now extremely popular for people receiving end of life care who wish to stay at home and is offered, where possible by the St Leonard’s team.

Julie Dale, senior sister and head of St Leonard’s Hospice@Home service, said: “Research carried out over the last 10-15 years says that, if given a choice, the vast majority of people prefer to die at home. However, a significant proportion still die in hospital. So, we’re working really hard with the hospital’s discharge liaison team and a whole host of others, to make change this.

“It’s often just about someone being brave enough to have that tender conversation with a patient and their family about their prognosis and their future wishes.

“Whilst these conversations aren’t happening, many people are in hospital thinking they just don’t want to be there. Here at St Leonard’s we see about 50 people each month and 95% of them wish to die at home, so we’re working with a whole multitude of services to make this happen.”

Looking to the future, St Leonard’s is focusing on positive changes. During Hospice Care Week is it focusing on recruiting more staff – clinical and non-clinical – to boost its teams and will hold a recruitment open day. It is looking to open more shops and grow its Hospice@Home and Single Point of Coordination (telephone hotline) service, offering continued support for patients and families. Described as the “hidden service – the voices behind the support” this phone support service has been a lifeline to many families. And it is looking at developing a new outreach service, to take services out to the community, ensuring that vulnerable people will get access to vital services.

Emma explained: “Like many other organisations, we’ve had to adapt. We’ve been agile and we will survive, but it’s not going to be easy and we need our communities to work with us. From a cost of living point of view our shops will help. They make things affordable and everyone is looking to save money, so trading is good at the moment. Our ebay shop which operates on a global platform, is also growing. So it’s good to focus on what is going well as we mark Hospice Care Week and celebrate our success as York’s only adult hospice service. Thank you to everyone for their continued support.”