Hospice UK's 2021 National Conference has opened, returning to Liverpool's ACC after skipping last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year's event, called "A New World", has a focus on the workforce, transformation, mental health and wellbeing, and reducing inequalities in access to hospice and palliative care. As well as the in-person event many of the conference sessions are being livestreamed. 

The conference opened with Paul Jennings, Hospice UK Chair and former CEO of NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and Tracey Bleakley, Hospice UK's CEO. 

In her opening remarks Bleakley recognised the efforts of the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. "The first thing I would like to say is massive congratulations to all of you who are here today. You kept the hospice service,  palliative care and good end of life care on the road through the pandemic, through thick and thin.  You were incredibly flexible, you changed what you did overnight, and nothing was too much trouble. It was incredibly hard, with people dying so quickly, not being able to build the same relationships with families, having to keep visitors out, and having to wear  PPE all the time.

"I'd like to say to all of you in the audience, and all of you watching at home, this is your time, to talk to each other, celebrate what you've done, and take time out for yourself, because you all deserve it so much." 

She went on to add that despite the pandemic, it is estimated that there hasn't been a drop in the number of families helped by hospice care, and care at home has risen by 25%. 

Additionally access to hospice care for people who are in prison, experiencing homelessness, or are from a Gypsy or Traveller community has increased by 25%. "We have not stopped trying to tackle inequalities and providing equitable access to hospice care, even through such a difficult period" Bleakley said. 

Over the three-day event there will be sessions on working with homeless communities, the creative use of digital technologies, the impact of the pandemic on grief,  resilient leadership and racial inequality. Leaders and clinicians from the end of life sector will be speaking along with Mandu Reid, leader of the Women's Equality Party, Dr Zirva Khan, GP and Director of Public Affairs at the British Islamic Medical Association, and Professor Donna Hall CBE, Chair of the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust among many others. 

There will also be sessions discussing new service models, and what the new integrated care systems and a more collaborative approach to working means for the sector. "A big focus on provider collaboratives gives hospices and end of life organisations the opportunity to partner up and take really good ideas around end of life pathways to commissioners" Bleakley added. "Let's think big, and let's think about how we can do more work together across our communities."