A HOSPICE caring for people nearing the end of their lives is branching out to offer funeral services.

The decision by St Margaret’s Hospice to set up a funeral director’s in Taunton has been slammed by some local undertakers.

The Bishop’s Hull-based charity plans to start operating out of its former charity shop, in Bridge Street, later this month, with a number of units opening in other areas of Somerset in the future.

One existing funeral director in the area, who asked not to be named, said: “Surely it’s a conflict of interest and is bound to hit our trade.”

Another said: “It puts us at a disadvantage because when people go into the hospice for end of life care or St Margaret’s nurses go into people’s homes, they’ll be able to say, ‘these are the types of service we offer, including funerals’.

“We think it’s wrong and unfair on other funeral directors.”

A St Margaret’s spokesman said the new ‘funeral home’ in Taunton is “a natural extension” to the organisation’s end of life care, adding that the set up costs will be similar to those associated with establishing a new charity shop.

Profits from the venture will be re-invested to enable the charity, which has an annual budget of more than £10 million and only receives around £2.5million from the NHS, to widen the reach of its care and support for patients and families facing a life-limiting illness.

Chief executive Ann Lee said: “We are all about providing the best possible support at end of life and we feel that our new service will provide more choice to patients, their families and the public.

“The funeral service forms part of our ‘Fit for Future’ programme, which involves rolling out innovative new models of support to ensure that we can sustain our services as we experience significant increase in demand from those facing life-limiting illnesses across Somerset.”

The hospice has worked with and taken advice from industry experts and has appointed an experienced funeral director to run the Taunton Funeral Home.

Clinical director Joy Milliken said: “St Margaret’s is a much loved local charity with a strong reputation within the community we serve.

“We are known for our exceptional care at what is a very difficult time for our patients and their families.

“The profits from the new funeral service will mean we can continue to extend our support into the community, both within our inpatient units and the care that we provide in the home.

St Margaret’s was founded 37 years ago and has two hospice sites – one in Yeovil and one in Taunton, as well as five community based teams caring for patients in their own homes.

The charity cared for 3,200 people last year.