One of the privileges of being an MP is that you can get an insight into the excellent work undertaken by our local charities.
There are so many excellent charities in the area, and so many people who make an invaluable contribution to their work, that it can be invidious to highlight just one charity and one individual.
However, the work of the Hospice of St Francis, and Dr Ros Taylor MBE, deserves to be highlighted.
Ros has been director of the hospice since 1997. At that time, the hospice was a relatively small organisation existing in a converted nunnery in Shrublands Road, Berkhamsted.
Under Ros’s leadership, the Hospice of St Francis expanded its care and fundraising capacity until it was necessary and able to move to larger premises. Eight years ago, after many planning and fundraising challenges were overcome, the fabulous new hospice in Northchurch was officially opened.
Like many local residents, I have always had a huge amount of affection for the Hospice of St Francis. I first visited it in its old location before I was elected as an MP in 2005. It was my first visit to a hospice and I confess to a degree of trepidation not knowing what to expect.
What surprised me, even though many of the patients were in their last weeks of life, was that the atmosphere was remarkably positive and cheerful. Everything was done to ensure that those last weeks were as pleasant as possible.
In my many visits since, that positive atmosphere has been maintained. For the last eight years, the new premises have further enhanced what the hospice can do for people with much greater space and a gorgeous garden.
As an MP, it has been a privilege to see the Hospice of St Francis go from strength to strength. As a Minister, it was also a great pleasure at the last Autumn Statement in assisting hospices like St Francis when we announced that hospices will now be able to recover any VAT which they incur, putting them on a level playing field with NHS provision.
Ros tells me this could be worth around £40,000 to the hospice every year. I am delighted that I was able to play a small role in developing that policy.
There are still great challenges ahead for the hospice. We are lucky to have many excellent providers of palliative care in the area, such as Rennie Grove and the Peace Hospice, Watford.
These organisations are working ever more closely together.
The relationship with the NHS is also closer than it has ever been.
The Clinical Commissioning Group, which has replaced the Primary Care Trust, is taking a much more positive approach to using hospices to support NHS services.
By the way, when some complain that the small increase in the use of non-NHS providers constitutes ‘privatisation’, they are criticising the increased use of hospices by the NHS.
When you see the excellent work undertaken by hospices, that criticism seems to me to be a far too ideological and dogmatic approach to healthcare.
So the future looks bright for the Hospice of St Francis. However, the future challenges will have to be met without Ros Taylor. After 18 years in charge, she is moving on at the end of March to an important new role at Hospice UK.
As a patron of the hospice, I attended a lunch last week to mark the occasion. I am sure her successor as chief executive, Steve will do an excellent job. But Ros has done so much for the Hospice of St Francis that she will be greatly missed by all.