LAST week, I secured and led a Westminster debate on fiscal support for the hospice sector, as details emerged that the UK Government’s Energy Bills Discount Scheme won’t lift the enormous pressure hospices face.

Hospices deliver essential end-of-life palliative care to around 30,000 people in Scotland and most of us at some point have cause to be grateful for the invaluable care and support provided to both families and our terminally ill loved ones.

Despite providing this essential public service, hospice care is not funded by the state, but relies on fragile sources of income, specifically donations from the public.

Indeed, two thirds of adult hospice income and four fifths of child hospice income is raised through fundraising, such as bake sales, charity shops and marathons.

As such, the cost-of-living crisis has significantly impacted the sector, from rising energy and food prices to staff pay rises, with additional costs of around £100 million a year across the UK. This at a time when many who generously donate are struggling themselves.

Support available via the Energy Bill Relief Scheme – which is under UK control – has not been sufficient to protect the sector from soaring utility costs, causing many hospices to dip into financial reserves set aside for capital projects or service development.

However, this is unsustainable, and many hospices now face cuts to the vital services they provide.

The Energy Bill Relief Scheme ends on March 31 to be replaced by the considerably less generous Energy Bill Discount Scheme, whereby hospices will be eligible for the same level of support as hospitality outlets.

Yet, unlike pubs or restaurants, hospices cannot pass on increased costs to service users or reduce energy consumption for equipment such as oxygen pumps and ventilators, while inpatient units must be kept warm.

The new Discount Scheme demonstrates how the Tories view hospices, considering them to be a luxury and not appreciating the vital work they do by offering a haven of supportive, compassionate and dignified palliative care to terminally ill patients and their families.

The demand for palliative care is now greater than ever, post-pandemic, yet without UK Government support, the sector will increasingly be unable to meet demand and provide the type of care which cannot be replicated in hospital settings.

The SNP Government is doing everything within its limited powers to tackle this crisis, including providing £7 million to support children and their families in hospices and at home, while ensuring that hospice parking places are exempt from any workplace parking charges.

Meanwhile, the UK Government retains the key powers necessary to tackle this cost-of-living crisis on the scale required, including the ability to tax and redistribute energy company windfall profits and energy market regulation.

The Chancellor must provide meaningful long-term financial support to hospices in his Spring Statement, as it’s unfathomable that such a critical part of our health care system is expected to absorb astronomical energy price rises and depend on an unsustainable and insecure funding model in these challenging times.