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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland Hospice in funds plea to Executive to ensure services not disrupted

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Northern Ireland Hospice chief executive Heather Weir

Northern Ireland Hospice chief executive Heather Weir

Northern Ireland Hospice chief executive Heather Weir

The head of the Northern Ireland Hospice has said the organisation faces an "unprecedented challenge" as the coronavirus crisis escalates.

Chief executive Heather Weir called on the Stormont Executive to ensure that the services it provides to vulnerable people can continue to receive adequate funding as disruption continues.

More than 4,000 vulnerable children and adults have been in the care of the hospice and the Children's Hospice in the last year, with 295 new adult referrals since January alone.

It takes £15.5m every year for the Northern Ireland Hospice and the Children's Hospice to deliver palliative care services.

In 2019, approximately £4m of this was funded by Government with the remaining £11.5m generated through corporate support, shops and fundraising activities

Already, however, there are signs that income from the charity's shops is falling, the chief executive revealed.

"Our hospice shops have already seen an 11% reduction in revenue within the last week due to decreased footfall, and this is only likely to decline further," Ms Weir said. "Should mass gatherings be cancelled, this will include our upcoming fundraising events, which are expected to raise £250,000 in the coming weeks alone."

Ms Weir said charities, such as the Northern Ireland Hospice, are already under great financial pressure and this outbreak adds extra pressure.

"A further reduction in income would have a devastating impact on our ability to continue caring for the 4,000 babies, children and adults who rely on our services," she added.

"This, coupled with increasing demand for our specialist palliative services, poses an unprecedented challenge."

Ms Weir said it was vital the government at Stormont offered urgent additional financial support to help the hospice.

"Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £30bn boost to combat the coronavirus threat in this week's Budget. We are now strongly calling upon Government to consider the third sector and charities such as the Northern Ireland Hospice when it comes to the allocation of these funds," she added.

Ms Weir said she had already been in touch with both the Department of Health and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister to make clear the challenges her organisation was facing because of the coronavirus crisis, and was waiting for a response.

"We operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and we depend heavily on two sources of funding - from Government, and from our charity fundraising," she added.

"Any reduction from either of those sources may hit our ability to deliver those services.

"The impact of further reduction in income should not be underestimated - and we hope this will be understood by our Northern Ireland Executive with urgent additional financial support to follow."

Belfast Telegraph