A charity's plans to build a new hospice have been stopped, its boss has revealed.

Saint Francis Hospice chief executive Pam Court said it had been preparing to consult with Havering Council's planning committee before admitting it "can't afford" the new build.

She told this paper: "I can't risk the money coming in so we've stopped that. What we are now having to do is say 'what building works have we got to do as a matter of urgency that we put on hold knowing there would be a new build?'

"That was disappointing. We had spent quite a lot of money and we'd got all the plans drawn up."

The hospice, based in Havering-atte-Bower, offers care to people with life-limiting illnesses across east London as well as their carers and families.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Pam Court has revealed plans for a new hospice building have been stoppedPam Court has revealed plans for a new hospice building have been stopped (Image: Saint Francis Hospice)

It had a £1.4 million deficit during the pandemic and had to make some redundancies, as reported by the Recorder last August.

"I did not enjoy at all the restructuring and the redundancies," Ms Court admitted.

"It's not what you go into this job to do and it's not what the hospice had ever had to do before.

"There was a great deal of sadness about losing colleagues."

The deficit has now fallen to around £500,000 of its £12 million budget, which is mostly made up of public donations.

Ms Court said: "I don't believe I can cut things very much more. The situation is better than it was but not there yet."

The charity has had participants in external events such as the Havering Half-Marathon, but still isn't running its own fundraisers yet.

Ms Court has also called for the government to increase pay for hospice staff, saying recruitment has been a challenge.

The hospice is unable to offer its staff a pay rise, and Ms Court said: "I am quite nervous staff won't move to us if they think they are going to get poorer pay conditions than the NHS."

But she explained that the hospice has been admitting more people despite the challenges, with community teams seeing almost 1,000 more patients than the year before.

Ms Court described public support as "massive and essential" through the pandemic.

"I felt really proud that the public were going to realise that we were in a bit of a challenge and would continue to support us.

"Without our supporters, we couldn't have continued to do it.

"Their messages of encouragement and small gestures have meant so much to staff."

The charity is now focusing on an 18-month strategy which will include developing an end-of-life care project for homeless people.

"We really do want to reach out to people who do not traditionally access our services so, despite everything, we have got some new service provision."

It will also include recruiting and retaining staff as well as achieving financial stability, Ms Court added.

Hospice Care Week runs from October 4 to 8 and the campaign aims to celebrate and raise awareness of the work hospices across the country do.

Vlad Bitlan is one of the patients cared for by Saint Francis Hospice.

The 24-year-old has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Vlad Bitlan with mum Narcisa and dad RobertoVlad Bitlan with mum Narcisa and dad Roberto (Image: Saint Francis Hospice)

Vlad was moved to a care home in Harold Hill five years ago but was referred to the hospice at the end of 2020 after struggling to cope during lockdown and losing weight, the charity said.

His mum Narcisa felt the hospice "saved" Vlad.

She said hospice doctor Pia Amsler "sorted everything", including support and training for care home staff.

"Vlad did not have any life in him. He just had pain," Narcisa revealed.

"I was desperate. I could not sleep as I was worrying about what I could do.

"I think a lot of people must be in that situation and they do not know that places like Saint Francis Hospice can help them. He is in the best hands now."

For more about the hospice, including on how to donate or volunteer, visit sfh.org.uk.