In November, St. Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset launched a new funeral service in Taunton, in what it termed ‘a natural extension of its end of life care’ but, subsequently, was revealed to be part of a new commercial franchise business opportunity.
In its initial response, the NAFD highlighted how closely funeral directors work with hospices across the UK and support them with fundraising, often in discreet ways to avoid upsetting or offending anyone dealing with a terminal illness. The Association also observed that some hospices have rejected fundraising or donations from funeral homes, to avoid giving the impression of any connection or obligation to their clients – and the NAFD noted the apparent irony of a hospice now deciding to bypass these kinds of concerns and set up its own funeral service.
It is, perhaps, understandable that St Margaret’s might see organising the funeral as an extension of the care they provide when someone is dying but, in reality, the two professions are very different and it is surprising to see a hospice decide to invest its funds in the considerable costs required to set up and operate a professional commercial funeral service.
The NAFD is concerned that, in order to recoup this investment, families may be overly encouraged, or feel obligated, to use the hospice’s funeral service rather than checking the services, quality and prices of a range of local funeral providers, in order to choose the funeral director that is best for them.
Having subsequently been in receipt of copies of the letter, from Memoria (the firm behind the initiative) promoting this franchise opportunity, the Association has expressed further concern that the motives behind the move are even less altruistic than previously suspected, and that hospices taking up the franchise opportunity will simply become another commercial provider in the market, moving from a charitable organisation providing services, to one that simply sells them.
For these reasons, the National Association of Funeral Directors shares the concerns of The Good Funeral Guide, expressed in a letter written to 191 UK hospices which features in today’s Guardian (8 December 2017).