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People power prompts hospice closure rethink

A public outcry over plans to close the Pilgrims Hospice ward in Canterbury has inspired charity bosses to reconsider. Trustees were “extremely concerned” about the outpouring of opposition expressed by hundreds who attended an emotionally- charged public meeting at Canterbury Academy last week. On Monday, they decided to postpone further public meetings while the trustees “review their plans” for inpatient beds at the London Road site.

Trustees chairman Dr Richard Morey angered campaigners at the public meeting
Trustees chairman Dr Richard Morey angered campaigners at the public meeting

In a statement, chairman of the board of trustees Dr Richard Morey said:

“Firstly we would like to thank our supporting community for attending our first public meeting in Canterbury. We are becoming painfully aware of how our incredibly loyal supporters feel about the Future Hospice Programme and we want them all to know that we are revisiting the proposed programme this coming Thursday evening [tonight]. The trustees and myself have been reading letters full of heartfelt concern from our supporters and we have been alerted to the Facebook campaign and petition, all of which has prompted us to take immediate action.”

Trustee Sarah Andrews CBE, a close friend of Pilgrims Hospice founder Ann Robertson OBE, said:

“I was extremely concerned at the depth of public feeling I witnessed last Friday. As a result, we are taking this matter very seriously indeed. We must listen to our supporting community.”

dHundreds of frustrated campaigners battling to save the unit stormed out of the meeting on Friday, May 30, after a gaffe by Dr Morey. Three-quarters of the 500 people left when he said it was not a consultative meeting, but merely a presentation of the trust’s views. Speaking this week, Dr Morey said:

“We acknowledge that we have not communicated sufficiently to date and will be rectifying this matter by communicating to our supporting community more regularly. We will do our very best for the community in these challenging circumstances and start to communicate some of the important issues that the charity is currently facing.”

Reacting to the news, Canterbury and Whitstable MP Julian Brazier (Con) said:

“It is welcome news the trustees are having a rethink. While they are a charity and not as accountable as say an organisation in the NHS, they seem to realise they must have public support for what they want to do inorderto carry on raising money.”

City councillor James Flanagan (Lib Dem) added:

“If there was one message from the public meeting, it was surely for management to think again. There is real, genuine concern that asking families to travel to Thanet or Ashford to see loved ones, possibly at a moment’s notice, would create unnecessary anxiety for those involved. I hope management will now listen to the public and medical professionals, reverse its decision and seek to find a way forward that keeps inpatient beds at Canterbury.”

Until now, charity bosses have stood their ground over the planned closure of the 16-bed care unit. They claim the centre — which opened in 1982 – is “no longer fit for purpose” and the closure will save £500,000 a year. Instead they want to expand hospice care in the community, with staff visiting patients in their own homes, nursing homes and hospitals. Public meetings planned for Margate last Monday and Ashford on Thursday, June 19, have now been put on hold while they review the plans.


The rethink provides a glimmer of hope for the thousands of people fighting against the loss of the facility. The campaign includes a Facebook group with 13.000 followers and a petition with 18,500 signatures all of which has placed further pressure on the charity to reconsider. This week, a group of nurses who work at the Canterbury hospice broke their silence about the proposals and challenged claims they were involved in the decision to shut the unit. In an open letter, the nurses – who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their Jobs – said they were “upset and angered” to find out the day before the proposals were announced. The team, which has more than 200 years of combined nursing experience, says:

“We make a very close-knit team due to the emotional demands on us all. This Is what makes the ward work so well – once we are all divided up and the ward closed, it will be very difficult to get this back. It is not just a job to us.  It is a way of life with a real passionate belief in what we do.”

They say the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, chaplains and counsellors there can react to patients’ need as they arise. The letter continues:

“Patients sometimes have only hours to live and having these services available in an emergency is paramount.”

It concludes:

“We have something that is realty successful, the ward, so let’s keep it open. This is not just a job. It’s a passion. Please help us to continue to serve the people of Kent.”

Former nurse Abi Calder says the trustees should have consulted the care givers
Former nurse Abi Calder says the trustees should have consulted the care givers

Former nurse Abi Calder, 39, who worked at the hospice for three years, added: “If the trustees had consulted the care givers, they would have realised earlier that this action plan won’t work.

“People need to have the option of going to a hospice to be taken care of, so their loved ones can be loved ones rather than carers. It takes a certain type of person to be a hospice nurse and I’m not sure community nurses could cope if the ward closed. If the hospice bosses have one ounce of humanity, they will reverse the decision to close it”

Herne Bay Gazette, June 12th 2014

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