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Support for Life-shortening Conditions — [Andrew Percy in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:18 am on 7th June 2016.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 10:18 am, 7th June 2016

I absolutely agree; that is something that the Government could do better. Again, that is not just the Westminster Government; it is an issue for Governments across the UK. It is very difficult when a family is suddenly thrown into a situation where they have a child who requires an incredible amount of support. They are trying to find out about children’s hospices and medical support and trying to work out what condition their child has. They are trying to swim through all that while keeping the family financially afloat. If the Government have not been proactive in providing and signposting all that support, it is even more difficult for families already dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. As Jason McCartney said, in a lot of cases they have to do it with next to no sleep. The situation is almost impossible, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that we do all we can to help those families.

I want to touch on a couple of other points that Members have mentioned. Antoinette Sandbach mentioned the importance of families having a break and respite. I underline the point made earlier that children’s hospices are not like adult ones. They provide support from diagnosis, or from the time when it is realised that the child may not survive childhood. Some 75% of the support provided by children’s hospices is through short breaks. We cannot overstate the difference between adult hospices and children’s hospices. There is a requirement that the Government provide them with different levels of statutory support, because they are a totally different kettle of fish.

The children we are talking about have 24/7 care needs, as a number of Members have mentioned. The importance of respite care cannot be overstated. The hon. Lady and Jim Shannon mentioned sharing the knowledge we have of best practice in the devolved nations and spreading what works. One problem we have in Scotland is the lack of children’s hospice care. We have only two children’s hospices in Scotland, and they have a total of about 15 beds. Families in my constituency have to do a 200-mile round trip to access a hospice, and that is on the weekends that work for the hospice, because there is such a big waiting list. I do not think that is appropriate. We need to work on that. In previous years and decades gone by, it was not necessarily so much of an issue, because there were fewer such children and families. It is now increasingly becoming an issue. That is why Charlie House in my constituency is working hard to get a hospice built in Aberdeen so that there is local access. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said, the Scottish Government are committed to trying to ensure that we have a geographic spread of services, as well as the spread of services needed for children with all the different conditions.

I appreciate the fact that we have had this debate so that we can discuss these matters, and I appreciate the feeling in the room about working together to try to find a way forward that helps everyone.

One point I will briefly mention, because it has been mentioned a number of times, is the issue of transport for those aged nought to three. That would be relatively easy for the Government to fix and would make a massive difference to the financial impact on families, particularly those who are struggling financially as it is. It would be a massive help.

Thank you, Mr Percy, for your chairmanship, and I once again thank the hon. Member for Pudsey for securing the debate.