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Michael Howard praises hospice movement in his maiden House of Lords speech

By Jonathan Isaby

I have not been as assiduous in following maiden speeches in the House of Lords as I have with new MPs this year.

However, a former party leader making his debut in the Lords certainly deserves a mention.

Picture 6 Yesterday, Michael Howard - now Lord Howard of Lympne - made his maiden speech in the Upper House during a debate on cancer treatment. Here's what he told their Lordships in his debut on the red benches:

My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to make my maiden speech in your Lordships' House. It is, after all, more than 27 years since I last made a maiden speech, so I am certainly out of practice. I am also cognisant of the many warnings I have been given about the differences between your Lordships' House and the House in which I was privileged to serve for those 27 years. It may take me a little time to adjust, but I assure your Lordships that I shall do my best.

I am most grateful for the welcome I have received in your Lordships' House, to the staff for their unfailing helpfulness and, particularly, to those in the information technology department who laboured so long to ensure that I was properly connected.

Before I turn to the subject of this debate, perhaps I could be forgiven for saying a word or two about the place from which I take my title. The spelling of the name, of course, bears only a passing relationship to its pronunciation, which is a frequent cause of confusion, but I suspect that it shares that distinction with many other places from which your Lordships’ titles are taken.

Lympne is a village in my former constituency where my wife and I have the pleasure and privilege of living. It dates back to Roman times when Portus Lemanis was built to protect the Roman ships in the harbour, which then existed below where the current village is situated. It also features frequently in books by HG Wells, who lived nearby. It is mentioned in both “The First Men in the Moon” and “War of the Worlds”, which may have something to do with the fact that, more recently, several observers have claimed to see unidentified flying objects in the vicinity of my house. I am afraid that I have never seen them or been in any way aware of their existence, so I cannot confirm, but nor of course can I deny, the veracity of those accounts.

It is a privilege to be able to take part in today's debate. I do so for two reasons. The first is the kind of personal reason that I know touches so many of your Lordships. My father died of breast cancer 44 years ago at the young age of 49. This coming Saturday would have been his birthday. He died at home and was wonderfully cared for in his last days by a dedicated group of nuns whose selflessness far exceeded any praise I could bestow on them.

The second reason is that, in a few days’ time, I shall have the honour of succeeding my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree, who I am delighted to see sitting beside me this afternoon, as chairman of Help the Hospices. I am conscious that my noble friend’s shoes will be very difficult to fill, but the opportunity of helping this great movement in however small a way was one that I could not turn down.

For the hospice movement, to which tribute has already been paid in this debate by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is surely one of the finest jewels in our healthcare crown.

“We lead the world in quality of death; many developed nations must work to catch up”.

These are not my words; they are the words of an independent report commissioned recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which went on to say:

“The UK has led the way in terms of its hospice care network and statutory involvement in end-of-life care and ranks top of 40 countries measured in the index”,

which that report drew up. It quotes Sheila Payne, Director of the Institute of End of Life Care at Lancaster University as saying:

“The UK has perhaps had the longest period of sustained charitable development of hospices and, more recently, limited statutory involvement and investment”.

I am of course conscious of the fact that today's debate is about cancer patients and about the quality and quantity of the life of those patients. Although hospices increasingly care for patients suffering from conditions other than cancer, it remains the case that a large majority of the people they look after do have cancer. Indeed, local hospices support almost 28 per cent of all people diagnosed with terminal cancer. What is perhaps less well known is that access to high-quality hospices and palliative care is important not only at the very end of life but often from the point of diagnosis. Many hospice patients are supported by their local hospice for many months or even years, benefiting from a suite of flexible services that are tailored to meet their own individual needs.

Something else that is not very well known is that 70 per cent of hospice care is provided in people's own homes through a range of community and home care services, including hospice at home, day care and out-patient care. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of hospice patients supported in their own home. In fact, between 2004 and 2008 it increased by 58 per cent, and this trend is continuing.

What is most remarkable about all this is the extent to which it has been achieved with a minimum of financial help from the Government. Health services are funded separately by the devolved Governments in each nation of the United Kingdom. In England, the Government contribute an average of 32 per cent of running costs for adult hospices, predominantly through primary care trusts, and about 15 per cent for children's hospices. The rest has to be found by charitable fundraising. Together hospices raise £1 million pounds a day to pay for the services that they provide. Almost 100,000 volunteers work in hospices throughout the United Kingdom, and the hospices could not do the work they do without them. It is hardly surprising therefore that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, answering a question in another place from the honourable Member for Worcester, said on 30 June that the,

“the hospice movement ... has been one of the great successes of the big society that we have in this country. I think we all cherish what the hospice movement does”.

Of course, challenges lie ahead, and we look forward to the Demos report on those challenges which is to be published next week. I hope to have something to say about those challenges on future occasions. For the moment, conscious of the need in this speech to eschew any hint of controversy, I content myself with commending to your Lordships the enormous contributions made by the hospice movement to the quality and quantity of life of people with cancer.


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