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5.49 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I am conscious of the fact that the Adjournment debate is starting early, so I will be happy to take any interventions from hon. Members.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the important matter of national health service support for children's hospices. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), will know that I have campaigned long and hard on the matter for a considerable time.

Much of my campaigning zeal has been stimulated by one of my constituents, Mr. Peter Finnegan, from Bolton upon Dearne. He is a redoubtable campaigner and local fundraiser for many good causes. Three such good causes for which Peter has campaigned in the past couple of years readily spring to mind, the first of which is the Robert Ogden school for autistic children, which is run by the National Autistic Society and is the biggest specialist autistic school in the whole of western Europe. Peter has also raised a lot of money for the South Yorkshire air ambulance and—last but not least—the Bluebell Wood children's hospice appeal, about which I shall say a little more later.

Peter is of course famous for spending 90 days locked up in a portaloo at the bottom of his garden between 1 January and the end of March last year, to protest at what he perceived to be the lack of Government support for children's hospices. Peter, who is probably in his mid-60s, does not enjoy the best of health, but he showed magnificent fortitude in staying the full distance. He left the portaloo for only roughly four or five hours during the night, for obvious reasons. I know from personal experience that it was very cold sitting on that portaloo at the bottom of his garden in south Yorkshire between January and March. It was the first time I had ever done any campaigning while sitting on a toilet.

While Peter was doing his bit on the toilet, I was obviously doing my bit in Parliament. I asked the Prime Minister a question on the matter last February, and presented a petition organised by Peter Finnegan and signed by more than 5,000 south Yorkshire people on 19 May 2004. I had a meeting with the Minister in his hallowed office on 21 July 2004, about which I shall say more shortly.

I have submitted the following early-day motion on the matter in the past two parliamentary Sessions. Early-day motion 226, as it is in this Session, is titled "Review of NHS Funding for Children's Hospices". I tabled it on 30 November 2004 and it states:

I urge all hon. Members who have not done so to sign the early-day motion, about which I feel strongly.

I applied for the debate because children's hospices currently receive less than 5 per cent. of their funding from the national health service, whereas adult hospices
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receive well over a third of their funding from the NHS. That differential is too great, so we need to examine closely the reasons behind it and find ways and means of closing it.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend refer to the Rainbows hospice in Loughborough—it is just outside my constituency—which serves not only Leicestershire and the east midlands, but areas as far away as south Yorkshire? A low proportion of its funding is met by the central taxpayer. Does he hope that the Minister will carefully examine its work and that of similar hospices? Adult hospices get 30 per cent. of their funding in such a way, which is fine, and successive Administrations have said that they will eventually match-fund the adult hospice movement. Does my hon. Friend join me in hoping that the Government will do something similar for children's hospices?

Jeff Ennis: I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to a hospice that adequately serves south Yorkshire at present. I shall talk about that specific situation later in my speech, if he will be patient.

As the Minister will recall from our meeting in his office on 21 July last year, this was the main subject of our discussion. He rightly pointed out the many reasons why national health service funding of adult and children's hospices varies so greatly. One of the main differences that he pointed out was the fact that children's hospices receive a greater proportion of their funding from social services departments to cover aspects such as respite care packages for parents. Unfortunately, no national statistics are currently available to identify accurately the amount of that additional funding that is going to children's hospices.

In the light of that situation and because I could not find information on the national position, I decided to try to identify the additional amount from a south Yorkshire perspective. I contacted the four directors of social services in south Yorkshire, and their responses were illuminating. I shall begin with my two home authorities. First, the chief executive of Barnsley said:

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main concerns that many of us have about the dependence on social services is that they are probably one of the most underfunded services that local authorities provide? We all know that they are under tremendous pressure. If we are dependent on social services, does it not mean that shortfalls in such provision will be likely?

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes a very telling point. It is taken as read that social services departments have been underfunded over the years. I am glad that the current Government have addressed that situation and that it is continually being addressed, but the issue is still very sensitive.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): It is not usual for the Minister to intervene at this stage in an Adjournment debate, but as we have time and there are suggestions that people want us to use it, I point out to my hon. Friend that social services departments have received a real-terms increase of almost 30 per cent. since 1997.

Jeff Ennis: I am glad that the Minister makes the point for me.

Let me finish quoting the letter of the chief executive at Barnsley:

The director of social services at my other home authority, Doncaster, said:

At Rotherham, the director of social services wrote:

—chief executive of the South Yorkshire strategic health authority—

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