Claims that the future of Stornoway's Bethesda Hospice will be threatened by a funding shortfall have been met with concern and a declared willingness to talk by the chief officer of the Integration Joint Board (IJB).
Ahead of a planned meeting between Bethesda's trustees and the IJB on Monday (March 25th), claims have been made that the hospice faces a severe funding shortfall if NHS Western Isles and the IJB do not significantly increase their funding support.
But IJB chief officer Ron Culley told welovestornoway.com today (Wednesday March 20th) that the board stands ready to support Bethesda with investment – if the need can be factually demonstrated.
Dr Culley said: "Bethesda's accounts are publicly available and the reality is that their income has been greater than expenditure for the last four years, and that they have a significant balance in reserve.
"We are genuinely committed to working with Bethesda, because they are a valuable partner in our health and social care system. If they can demonstrate a need we are absolutely committed to developing a new service level agreement and I would want to recommend to my board that we support that new contract with increased investment."
Bethesda has submitted accounts to the Scottish Charities Regulator OSCR up until 2018, when income was reported at £1,941,657 and expenditure at £1,844,027. Income has gradually diminished for the past three years, after peaking at almost £5 million in 2014, but remains greater than expenditure throughout the past five years.
Supporters of Bethesda have quoted a projected shortfall of £100,000 a year and a real-terms drop in the percentage of the hospice costs met by health and social care authorities, saying: "In order to meet Government obligations, the Health Board now require to pay an additional £8,000 per month."
In a joint statement issued last week, councillors Rae Mackenzie and Gordon Murray pleaded with NHS Western Isles and the IJB to take urgent action. Cllr Mackenzie said: "The bottom line is that Bethesda has to raise an extra £100K on top of the £270k they already need to raise - and that is just to break even."
Cllr Murray also warned that the local community would be asked to share the additional funding burden, as extra charitable giving would be needed to cover the shortfall. He said: "The people of our Islands give huge amounts of funding to Bethesda. When they have to ask the community to meet this shortfall in funding, it means that people have to make hard choices on who to help."
But Dr Culley indicated that it was important for him to provide hard evidence of Bethesda's financial position to his board members. He said: "The IJB itself is under intense financial pressure, with a requirement to make a cumulative saving of £10 million over the next three years. We understand the value of the contribution Bethesda makes to our care system, but we do also require to take a realistic look at their actual financial position."
The next board meeting of the IJB is on Thursday March 28th, but a private meeting between Bethesda trustees and IJB representatives is expected to take place on Monday (March 25th).