The city’s two best-loved charities are merging – as Dougie Mac today announced the takeover of the financially-troubled Donna Louise children’s hospice.
Recently, Donna Louise has struggled to raise enough money to continue to fund the essential services it provides to 240 families of children with life-limiting conditions.
David Webster, chief executive officer of the Douglas Macmillan Hospice, says the merger will ensure that all the clinical services offered by Donna Louise will continue as normal – and families will see no change to the way their care is delivered.
All clinical staff will continue to work in the same roles at Donna Louise, but they will become employees of the Dougie Mac.
However, there will be some redundancies among back office staff, as departments such as marketing and fund-raising are shared between the two hospices. The Donna Louise trustee board will also fold, but the hospice will continue to be known as Donna Louise.
Mr Webster, who was announcing the news to staff and the families who rely on the services today, said he believes the merger will secure the future of Donna Louise and allow for future expansion.
He said: “We want to reassure families that we will continue to deliver all the services Donna Louise currently provides and we hope to extend those services.
“The core of the change is down to financial sustainability. The statutory funding Donna Louise receives is very modest, it’s only nine per cent of the costs. Dougie Mac is only 20 per cent. Both of those numbers are below the national average.
“The costs of services at Donna Louise outstripped the income. The landscape was looking very difficult for a small children’s hospice.
“When you rely on the generosity and kindness of local people, you can’t operate a deficit, you have to spend that money wisely.
“We feel we have a responsibility to play a part in the sustainability of its services. We admire what they do. Stoke-on-Trent needs these services.
“We realised we can assist them. We are almost four times the size of Donna Louise.
“What we are proposing to do is offer all the patient-facing clinical staff to become employees of Dougie Mac, on the same terms and conditions that they are on now. That demonstrates our commitment to retaining all clinical services.
“But I think there’s more we can do for children and young adults. There’s a growth opportunity.
“We will need to look at back office functions. Why would you have two of marketing, fund-raising? There’s a benefit to economies of scale.
“Donna Louise has about 60 clinical staff and probably another 40 to 50 non clinical. There will be some job losses among non clinical staff and we will look at the senior management team.
“It will mean more of every pound which is donated goes to support clinical services.”
Mr Webster said the Donna Louise Trust will continue as a brand name and people will still be free to choose whether donations go to Dougie Mac or Donna Louise.
He said Donna Louise had struggled to meet its costs due to people having less spare cash to donate, and competition from other charities. While Donna Louise cares for a small percentage of the community, Dougie Mac cares for 3,000 patients every year, meaning that most people in the city have either visited a close relative at the hospice, or have known someone who benefitted from its services.
Mr Webster believes the greater reach of Dougie Mac will create opportunities to grow revenue – and ultimately services – at Donna Louise.
He said: “We are massively connected to the community of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire.
“We look more than 3,000 patients a year and our most loyal supporters are people who have been through our services. Very few families around Stoke-on-Trent have had nothing to do with Dougie Mac.
“Fortunately, very few of us have children at Donna Louise. That’s more of a niche, they don’t have that scale of impact that we do at Dougie Mac. Donna Louise looks after 240 families – but you can imagine what it would be like for those families without it.
“I hope people will see that we are not a million miles away in distance or in what we do. I hope people will see this as a positive – we have an opportunity to grow both Dougie Mac and Donna Louise.”
Mr Webster added: “There’s a balancing act. We need to make sure Dougie Mac’s services are not damaged and that has been achieved. Dougie Mac’s finances will not be used to support Donna Louise.
“We see it as a great opportunity for the city to move into the next phase of service delivery, from children, to young adults. to palliative care.”