St Margaret of Scotland, in Clydebank, is the biggest hospice in Scotland. Over the last sixty years has built a reputation for providing an extremely high standard of professional care which many people in East Dunbartonshire have benefitted from. From my own family experiences, I can personally attest to the compassion and professionalism of the staff there, and the outstanding facilities that the hospice provides. St Margaret’s has a total of 60 beds: 30 for palliative end-of-life care and 30 for the “continuing care” of older adults with complex medical and nursing needs. The hospice is run by a religious order on a charitable basis. It is funded partly by the NHS, and partly through large numbers of individual donations from the members of the public, raised by volunteers.
It emerged that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board planned to withdraw funding for the 30 continuing care beds at St Margaret’s Hospice while at the same time authorising a contract for 60 continuing care beds at a new commercial facility, being built at Blawarthill. This is in spite of the fact that St Margaret’s has recently completed a £4.7m state-of-the-art ward for these patients at no cost to the public purse. Why would the Health Board decide to move the continuing-care provision a few miles away when it is already being provided to an excellent standard, with a substantial subsidy from charitable donations?
These proposals would leave St Margaret worse off to the tune of over £1.2 million, which would have a devastating effect on the services the hospice offers. St Margaret already relies heavily on donations and continuously fundraises to meet the annual running costs of £30,000 per week.
The Health Board’s plans have caused outrage in the local community, where many people have relatives who have been cared for at St Margarets, and have seen the excellent service that it provides. St Margaret’s has presented the Health Board with workable alternatives to the current plans which would help secure its future, but the Board has so far ignored all suggestion of compromise.
In February 2010 the controversy deepened when John Banon, a member of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, broke ranks and wrote to Nicola Sturgeon expressing serious concern about the redevelopment of Blawarthill and the consequences that this would have for St Margaret’s. More seriously, Mr Banon claimed that officials on the Board were obstructing him in finding out information about the St Margaret’s decision.
The campaign against St Margaret’s funding cuts
Petition to the Prime Minister
- In 2008 I presented a petition to 10 Downing Street of over 90,000 signatures from people opposing the cuts.
- Under pressure, the Health Board postponed the withdrawal of funding until 2012. However, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have made it clear that they are still determined to press ahead with the proposals in spite of opposition from the local community.
- In 2009 I wrote to the Scottish Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, urging her to order an independent review to investigate the proposals put forward by the hospice and by the Health Board.
- Disappointingly Nicola Sturgeon refused to intervene, saying that the issue “remains a matter for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde”.
- I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon again in November 2009 asking her to put a stop to the planned cuts, and again asking her to put in place an independent review of the situation.
- Ms Sturgeon responded to my letter, again refusing to intervene to break the deadlock.
Debate in the Scottish Parliament
- A debate on the future of the St Margaret Hospice took place in the Scottish Parliament on the 11th March 2010. Disappointingly, despite all party support for securing the future of St Margaret’s, the Health Secretary maintained that the issue could be resolved by discussions between the Health Board and St Margaret’s. So far nothing has come of these discussions.