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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulator-finds-trustees-complied-with-legal-duties-in-making-difficult-decision-to-close-yeovil-in-patient-unit/regulatory-compliance-case-st-margarets-somerset-hospice
Regulator finds trustees complied with legal duties in making difficult decision to close Yeovil in-patient unit
The Charity Commission has scrutinised the move by St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice (charity number 279473) to remodel its services, which will involve controversially closing its in-patient unit in Yeovil. The regulator concludes that the trustees made an informed decision consistent with charity law.
The charity, based in Somerset, delivers care to patients and their families who are facing a life limiting illness.
In July the charity announced that it had begun a consultation with staff and volunteers to remodel the services provided. The proposal was to close the in-patient unit at Yeovil and increase community services. The trustees were conscious that the proposal would be a sensitive issue, so they reported the matter to the Commission as a serious incident report, in line with our guidance.
Members of staff, volunteers and the public in the Yeovil locality were understandably very concerned about the proposal, and started a social media campaign to prevent the closure happening. Allegations were made about the trustees’ decision-making and complaints were made to the Commission.
The Commission opened a regulatory compliance case to assess whether the trustees had followed proper processes, including following the principles that the courts have developed for reviewing decisions made by trustees. The Commission cannot determine whether the trustees made the right decision; rather, we look to see whether it was a decision that a reasonable body of trustees could make. We wanted to be certain that, in making the decision, the trustees were sufficiently informed through accurate and up to date information.
The Commission requested and reviewed documents and information, and established that the trustees had acted appropriately. We were satisfied that the trustees had, over several years, undertaken a comprehensive county wide review (‘Fit for Future’), consulted widely with stakeholders, undertaken research and taken advice from experts in palliative and end of life care.
Overall, the Commission found that the trustees demonstrated a desire to act in the best interests of their charity and the community it serves, and that the charity’s mission and purpose guided their decision-making, as we would expect. Following specific complaints, the Commission also examined the trustees’ decisions about the charity’s commercial ventures, and established that these had no direct impact on the need to remodel services. Whilst we are mindful of the consequences for people, the Commission has concluded that the decision to re-model the services was properly made and within the range of decisions that a reasonable trustee body could make.
We expect the Trustees’ Annual Report 2019/20, within its accounts, to provide details as the new services are fully rolled out and set out the anticipated wider benefits to the community.
Tracy Howarth, Head of Regulatory Compliance at the Charity Commission said:
Clearly this was a significant decision that affects people’s lives, so it is right that we have examined it closely. I hope that our findings here will bring some comfort to people in the local community that the charity has not acted recklessly or carelessly, but took a considered approach to ensure the charity’s long-term ability to continue helping people.
We recognise that many, particularly in the Yeovil area, will be unhappy with the charity’s decision, however trustees do from time to time have to make difficult decisions to ensure that their charity best meets the needs of current and future beneficiaries and remains financially sustainable. The trustees must continue to be mindful of the reliance of many on their services as they move the charity forward.
This case serves as a reminder of the many vital services that charities deliver for the public; that carries with it an important responsibility, and so all charities should ensure that significant decisions are made carefully and properly.
Charities are independent so the Commission cannot overturn or judge whether a decision taken by trustees is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; our role is to determine whether a decision by trustees has been made properly, in line with our decision making guidance.
According to a recent survey carried out by Hospice UK, 82% of charitable hospices are planning a deficit budget this financial year. Where charities operate in a particularly difficult financial climate trustees will need to implement strong financial management, appropriate use of reserves and manage risks. Trustee duties are set out in our guidance
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