‘No matter what happens over the coming months, the need for vital children’s hospice care will not go away’

A message from Acorns Chief Executive Toby Porter

At this time of great concern for us all, I sincerely I hope that this message finds you, your loved ones and colleagues in good health, and taking the precautions that we all need to be taking, based on our personal circumstances and the evolving advice.

As always, our first priority at Acorns is the children and families accessing our children’s hospice service. A majority of Acorns families have been self-isolating for some time, to protect their children’s health. We are hearing from many families about their understandable fear and anxiety about the prospect of being cut off from the families, friends, neighbours, volunteers, organisations and statutory services that they rely upon. Many families will of course have immediate financial concerns as well.

Our hospices are in the process of closing for normal “respite” or short break stays, though we are continuing to offer end of life care, and care for a small number of children living in our three hospices who do not have anywhere to go home to.

We will move immediately to do everything we can to support families at home. All available staff are already and will until further notice continue to call families at home, and to make home visits where we feel it is both urgent and safe to do so.

Emma Aspinall, our Director of Care, is in daily calls with NHS-England. She and her counterparts in children’s hospices across the country are mindful of the fact we may be asked to put our hospices and/or some of our medical staff directly at the service of the Government emergency response.

One scenario we are discussing, for example, is where Acorns is asked to take children currently in hospital for existing health conditions, so that hospital beds and staff can be made available.

Our second priority is to our workforce, our paid staff and volunteers. Like all large employers in the UK, we are acting day-by-day to follow new Government guidelines as regards self-isolation, school closures etc.

We have already implemented Government guidance in full as regards protecting vulnerable and older members of our team of staff and volunteers. We are on the list to receive the same protective gear as for other front-line care teams, as and when sufficient supplies are made available by the Government.

Every morning, as NHS colleagues in hospitals and other employers are doing, the leadership teams in our three hospices are organising rotas and prioritising care based on the staff available to them at the time. We have obviously asked all our staff to expect to show maximum flexibility, so we can show maximum responsiveness to children and families.

In our shops, our wonderful group of older volunteers have been asked not to come into the shops, and to immediately follow Government advice to self-isolate. While shops remain open in the West Midlands, we hope to keep our own shops trading, and hope people will continue to donate any stock they may not need.

For our non-hospice and non-shop-based staff, we have tested on a daily basis for almost two weeks now, crisis management and business community protocols, including remote working capability, for what we anticipate will be further restrictions on all our movement in coming days. On the evidence of the past week, we think we are in good shape for anticipated further restrictions on movement in the days and weeks ahead.

Myself, the Executive Directors and Trustees at Acorns are obviously also mindful of the extreme financial risk this crisis presents to Acorns and so many other UK charities. We are working urgently to identify any steps we can to mitigate the financial impact of this crisis. We know it affects all members of our community, and all parts of our economy.

In common with all charities, we are already seeing immediate impact from the cancellation of events, and other gatherings, and from a huge decline in retail sales and stock donations over the past two weeks across our 50 charity shops. You can read more on this here.

We are therefore doing what we can to add our voice and insights as Acorns and as proud members of the UK’s fantastic hospice sector to calls for the Government to consider a special set of measures for some or all of the UK charity sector.

Some of what charities need are set out in a letter yesterday by Karl Wilding, the CEO of the NCVO, the national umbrella group for the UK’s charities. Karl is in daily contact with Baroness Barran, the Minister for Civil Society. You can read Karl’s blog here.

Pending more clarity on any Government support, we are humbly asking all our supporters to help Acorns respond with maximum flexibility and continue to support children and families in any way we can for the duration of this emergency, and thereafter.

I hope we can continue to count on your support, which we were already enormously privileged and grateful to enjoy, and is now obviously more important than ever.

No matter what happens over the coming months, the need for vital children’s hospice care will not go away.

With my thanks and best wishes, and wishing the very best to you, your family and everyone of importance to you in the months to come. We will get through this as a local, a national and global community.

Toby Porter, Chief Executive, Acorns Children’s Hospice