Published: 05/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5812 Page 6

Beds for the terminally ill will be lost if the NHS refuses to invest more cash in charitable hospices, prime minister Tony Blair will be told today.

The warning comes from charity Help the Hospices, which is sending hundreds of letters from terminally ill patients to Downing Street and asking the government to step in.

According HTH acting chief executive Christine Shaw, NHS grants usually fail to meet the full costs of nurses and doctors working at hospices, requiring top-up funding from charitable sources.

This, she claims, runs contrary to advice from the Charity Commission, which says charity funds should not be spent on public services. 'A vital part of our health service is being kept afloat through the generosity of local people and we feel this is not in line with the advice of the Charity Commission, ' said Ms Shaw.

The results of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence review into supportive and palliative care will not be available until September next year.

But as an interim solution to the funding shortfalls, the charity has proposed that the Department of Health should advise primary care trusts to fund 'at least' the equivalent of the cost of employing hospice nurses and doctors. The proposal has yet to be accepted.

Ms Shaw believes the future of many of the charitable adult hospices - currently numbering around 150 - are at risk unless action is taken. 'It is a matter of some urgency. If action is not taken within the next year or so, then beds will close. They are struggling to cope with the inflationary costs in the NHS at the moment, ' she said.

According to Ms Shaw, independent charitable hospices providing adult services had to raise£14.6m last year just to stand still.

The NHS met only 22 per cent of this inflationary pressure.

Many hospices have also been affected by the costs of paying for inspections by the new National Care Standards Commission.

NHS Alliance vice-chair Chris James said the work of hospices should be considered as mainstream healthcare and such services should be provided to everyone on an equitable basis.

But he warned: 'There remains a huge imbalance between primary care and secondary care. PCTs are sympathetic to what terminally ill people are saying, but PCTs do not have the resources and the government needs to look at providing the proper funds to ensure equitable services.