A CHARITY which has provided comfort and support to tens of thousands of terminally-ill people is at risk of no longer being able to accept new patients.

The chief executive of St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston yesterday announced a temporary suspension of admissions to inpatient beds.

Val Stangoe explained the hospice has been trying to recruit a senior doctor in palliative care since May to cover a temporary vacancy so it can offer continuity of care when a member of the team leaves in October.

But the role remains unfilled and as such the hospice will not have the medical expertise it needs to provide round-the-clock care to inpatients.

For an initial period of three months inpatients will no longer be accepted at the hospice’s In-Patient Unit.

The hospice is working with colleagues in the NHS to identify possible solutions and will extend its Hospice at Home service to allow more people to be cared for at home.

Mrs Stangoe said yesterday: “Today has been one of the most challenging days in the 30-year history of St Mary’s Hospice.

“Despite repeated attempts over a number of months we have as yet been unable to fill specialist doctor vacancies or find sufficient cover.

“As a specialist unit, there are strict rules about the level of doctor who is able to take responsibility for our patients, and while we have some fantastic doctors at the hospice, they do not have the required length of experience to take on this central role at this time, when our more experienced doctor leaves.

“We will use the next three months to redouble our efforts and leave no stone unturned in our quest to find the right person for this role.

“In the meantime, every other element of the hospice operation will continue to run as normal.”

The temporary suspension of admissions will take full effect by mid-October and if any patients are still being treated at that time they will be moved to alternative care facilities.

Bereavement counselling and Living Well services will continue to operate as usual while the hospice building and Orangery Cafe will remain open.

The hospice’s senior management team and trustees will continue the search for a new doctor but will also work on a back-up plan.

“Our goal is to recruit the individual we need to allow us to once again admit inpatients.

“But we must not be blind to the fact this has been a challenge for some time and is likely to continue to be so.

“For this reason, the right thing to do is to develop a Plan B which allows us to reach and support as many people as possible.

“I have been asked if the temporary suspension means job losses. In the short term, as we refocus our efforts to recruit a palliative care doctor, we will protect those roles which may be affected in the longer term.

“I pledge to make every effort, first and foremost, to find a way of reopening our IPU beds. And in the event of us having to turn to Plan B, I will do everything in my power to maintain the jobs and employment of as many of our team members as possible.”