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Dying with dignity must not rest on charity alone

PUBLISHED: 01:00 30 October 2012

Lifeline: The Louise Hamilton Centre, pictured during construction in the grounds of the James Paget University Hospital, will soon open its doors for palliative care. Should such a vital service have to rely on fundraisers to keep going?   Photo: James Bass.

Lifeline: The Louise Hamilton Centre, pictured during construction in the grounds of the James Paget University Hospital, will soon open its doors for palliative care. Should such a vital service have to rely on fundraisers to keep going? Photo: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

Brilliant news for Gorleston this week after the announcement that a support centre for people with life-limiting or progressive illnesses will shortly open its doors for business.

Less brilliant news, however, that it’s had to be funded by charitable donations rather than being paid for outright by the government: should such a vital service really have to rely on hand-outs?

I have nothing but praise for the people who threw their weight behind the drive for the support centre in the grounds of the James Paget University Hospital: without such people our health service would be a far paler reflection of what it is today.

But this kind of centre, these kind of resources are the reason I pay my taxes without (too much) moaning – add to the pot with charitable donations, yes, but they shouldn’t be the bedrock of funding.

My Dad spent his last days in a hospice of sorts – a long-term respite care facility – which was everything you hope a hospice wouldn’t be: it was grim, staffed by stone-faced people-haters and as life-affirming as a funeral director visiting Death Row on a Monday morning.

It’s been a revelation to see how hospices have changed in the two decades since my old man died in a grey side room and one which I know has been largely funded by charitable donations and the selfless work of volunteers.

Back in 2010, the government announced that hospices would soon be receiving as much in NHS cash as they get from charity fundraising: within “three to four years”, it said. That’s around three-and-a-half years longer than the average terminal illness prognosis.

In an ideal world, charitable donations to hospices would be paying for embellishments and luxuries rather than rates, wage bills and necessities: I’d be far happier to know that my donations were paying for lap dances and foie gras for patients than essential things like water, electricity and staff.

It used to be said that the two certainties in life were death and taxation, but Jimmy Carr and his reprehensible tax-avoiding cronies have proven there’s an exception to that rule, so death remains the number one thing none of us can hope to avoid.

Like it or not, we’re all going to pop our clogs, but before we go, the government would be grateful if we could raise the necessary cash to fund our own demise – you know, go on a quick fun run before our diagnosis. Be sponsored to lie in a bath of cold baked beans in order to peg it in style.

Meanwhile, it’s fine for us to help fund pointless university degrees in pop art knitting; military grandstanding to the tune of countless billions; child benefit payments to people that earn more in a year than I will in a lifetime, and pointless, self-serving quangos.

We can spend three times more than Canada does on weaponry, but we have to go cap in hand to people already paying their taxes to ask for money to fund services that aren’t about showboating or box-ticking, but are about ensuring people die with dignity.

It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

I am in no way downplaying the vital role that fundraisers play in keeping the doors open at hospices: these are good people who, in the words of my life guru Jeremy Kyle, are stepping up to the mark to plug a gap that a succession of governments have shamefully failed to fill.

Without them, presumably Jeremy Hunt would be happy for us all to quietly die in the gutter, warmed only by the knowledge that we could wipe out most of the planet with our missiles and that the University College of Fleggburgh awarded History of Boybands degrees to a slew of 20-somethings who can barely spell their forename, let alone form a coherent sentence.

Hospices offer us peace-of-mind at a time where peace-of-mind isn’t just desirable, it’s essential.

It figures, then, that state-funding for hospices is equally essential: we shouldn’t muck around when people who’ve paid taxes all their lives are reaching their final chapter and we shouldn’t rely on people’s generosity to fund their care.

The new centre in Gorleston will be named after local woman Louise Hamilton, who died of breast cancer aged 28, and whose mother was a driving force behind the appeal launch in 2006.

“It was my dream to have this kind of service locally,” said Roberta Lovick, “this type of centre has been needed for so long and I’d like to thank people from the bottom of my heart for donating and helping make it happen.

“We will still need donations to make sure the centre offers the best support we can provide.”

The point is, the Lovicks and every other family who have lost – or are losing – a loved one shouldn’t have to worry about the continued funding for such an essential service.

Nothing so vital should have to survive with uncertainty in its future.

The new centre is a victory for Norfolk, but another shameful indictment on the government.

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