HORIZON West, Fermanagh’s Children’s Hospice, has closed.
Short break and respite services at the Killadeas facility had been suspended at the end of last year due to a shortage of specialist nurses.
The Northern Ireland Hospice had used the interim period to “explore future options” but in a statement it has announced that the facility is now being formally deregistered as a healthcare facility with suitable tenant arrangements being explored instead.
The facility opened in a blaze of publicity in 2012 after the local community had raised £1.5 million to help families and children living with life-limiting conditions.
It has four en-suite bedrooms to provide overnight stays, as well as multi-sensory, art and music rooms.
The recruitment issues had been well-known to Horizon West families.
With limited services being provided throughout last year, a meeting had been held at the facility in August to outline the problems and the steps that were being taken to alleviate them.
It came as no shock then to families when the latest meeting, around six weeks ago, delivered the crushing news that the facility was no longer tenable.
Melanie McNally’s daughter, Grace, who has complex needs, had used the services at Horizon West on countless occasions since it opened.
“We knew from the meeting before that things weren’t going great,” said Mrs. McNally, “So it didn’t come as a shock to us but it is still very sad.
“We were told at the meeting that they had tried everything possible - advertising both North and South. But it all comes down to a shortage of staff and there is no way around that.”
When the service suspension had initially been announced, families in the West had been immediately offered three-night respite/short breaks at Horizon House in Newtownabbey.
“However, the reality of moving a child with a life-limiting/threatening condition, along with all their specialist equipment is a highly challenging feat, one which few can imagine,” a spokesperson for NI Hospice acknowledged. 
“This challenge, compounded by a significant driving distance for a three-night stay, was quite simply untenable.”

In light of this, NI Hospice, in collaborative partnership with the Department of Health is providing an additional bed at Horizon House.
The additional capacity is being described as a “service expansion” by the NI Hospice.
“The addition of this extra ‘bed’ and subsequent bed night capacity means that the charity can now offer extended stays to families travelling significant distances, and therefore truly delivering a meaningful ‘break’ to families so desperately in need of support,” said the spokesperson.
“Funded collaboratively by the charity and the Department of Health, the opening of this extra bed represents a real acknowledgement of the vital role which Northern Ireland Hospice plays in the provision of specialist palliative care in Northern Ireland. 
The partnership also signals the beginning of a comprehensive workforce planning effort between the Department of Health and NIH, looking towards building capacity in the sector for the future.”
Teresa Moss, whose daughter Riley, passed away last year, told the Impartial Reporter that although Fermanagh’s Children’s Hospice was now gone, it was important that the County’s sick children were still supported.
“Horizon West was such a big part of our lives for so many years, but before that we were making the journey up the road to the avail of the services elsewhere,” she said.
“I have concerns that with the services gone from here now, it could impact on local fundraising for the Children’s Hospice. 
“I would hate for that to happen because at the end of the day there are still families in Fermanagh who need respite, albeit they will have to travel further to get it now.
“Horizon West was such a beautiful place. But it wasn’t just a building to us. Riley loved going there and we always had that peace of mind that she was being well looked after. It is terrible that it got to this stage, but it is important that people still have faith in the Children’s Hospice and continue to support the families who live locally.”
Northern Ireland Hospice Chair Margaret Butler said the suspension and subsequent closure of services at Horizon West had been “devastating for all concerned”.
“In a meaningful and positive step to help alleviate some of the pressure on affected families, we are delighted to announce that the Department of Health have stepped in to help fund the opening of an additional bed, resulting in increased capacity at our Children’s Hospice in Newtownabbey.
“Furthermore, the Department of Health have committed to provide this additional £170,000 funding annually, allowing us to confidently and comprehensively plan our service delivery for the future, giving families that much needed confidence that we are here to support them through the challenges that lie ahead.
“It is with caution, however, that I reiterate the importance of implementing proactive workforce planning from now – so as future generations will be able to be supported by a workforce that meets their needs.”
Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, said: “The Department regrets that despite best efforts to recruit specialist nursing staff the Children’s Hospice has had to withdraw from providing services at Horizon West. We have worked closely with the Hospice to prevent this happening but recognise that alternative arrangements must now be introduced for respite services to support these vulnerable children and their families.”