A NUN who was forced out of the historic children’s hospice she founded wants to step in to help save it.

Sister Frances Dominica has backed a campaign calling for her to be reinstated at cash-strapped Helen & Douglas House, which controversially cut ties with her over unproven sex abuse allegations.

But when asked about the former nurse’s hopes, a hospice spokesperson said there was no plan to reverse her removal from the charity.

Oxford Mail: The entrance to Douglas House in Magdalen Road, East Oxford

After years in exile from the East Oxford hospice, which was the first of its kind in the world, Sister Frances has spoken of her longing to reclaim her role as a trustee.

She told the Oxford Mail: “It is hard seeing Helen & Douglas House in the state it is now in.

“I tried to convince myself that life moves on and perhaps it had served the purpose for which it had been founded - I tried to focus on the fact that Helen House has been a model for children’s hospices across the world.

“However, as the months have gone by, more and more families have been in touch with me expressing sorrow and deep anger at what has happened there since I was asked to leave.”

In January it was announced adult services at Douglas House will close in August due to lack of funds, which was the catalyst for Sister Frances speaking out.

The nun, who was appointed OBE for her services to healthcare, lives a stone’s throw from the hospice and has watched its recent plight unfold from afar.

Oxford Mail:

Helen's sister Catherine laying the foundation stone for the hospice with Sister Frances in 1982

Douglas House closing will cause 60 staff redundancies, the charity said earlier this year.

The announcement followed closures of several of the hospice’s charity shops, as part of major cost-cutting measures to counter a dip in donations.

Sister Frances said: “I do not know the financial situation in detail, but I do know that a number of high-profile donors have said to me that they will not give to the charity until I am back on board.

“Other previously loyal supporters have lost confidence in the governance and administration of the charity as it now is.

“Perhaps it has to crash before it can be re-founded – like the phoenix rising from the flames.”

A petition calling for her reinstatement has been signed by almost 1,000 people since January.

Trustees asked Sister Frances to resign from the charity in 2015 following allegations of historic abuse unrelated to the hospices, which she vehemently denies.

She was arrested in November 2013 and stepped aside from her role during investigation, but in 2014 the Crime Prosecution Service said there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and the case was dropped.

However, the hospice commissioned an independent risk assessment and concluded Sister Frances should not return.

At the time trustees said: “We have to comply with requirements of the Care Quality Commission and adhere to their safeguarding standards.”

However the CQC sent a letter to React, a palliative care charity of which Sister Frances is a patron, contradicting this.

A copy seen by the Oxford Mail, dated May 2016, said: “There is no requirement from CQC that prevents Sister Frances Dominica from working for Helen & Douglas House.”

Sister Frances said: “I have not set foot in either house for almost five years, despite assertions from some of the highest legal authorities in the land that I should be allowed to return.

“I may be getting old but my passion for what Helen & Douglas House stands for is as strong as ever.”

She said the houses were founded with ‘friendship at their heart’ alongside the highest standards of care, and they had helped families through ‘indescribable tragedy’.

A statement released by Helen & Douglas House yesterday paid tribute to Sister Frances but said the hospice's financial struggles were not a direct result of her departure.

Douglas House is due to close in August, which will mean the hospice will no longer provide a service to 18-35 year-olds.

Full statement from Helen & Douglas House

"Charitable trustees have a duty to act in the best interests of the charity they represent, taking into account the circumstances and all the information available to them when making difficult decisions. 

"The decisions made in 2015 as to what was in the best interests of the charity were arrived at only after much thought and deliberation and wide ranging consultation and professional advice. 

"This included independent risk assessments and input from regulators and statutory bodies, such as the Care Quality Commission, local authorities and clinical commissioning bodies and a review at a strategy meeting held by Oxfordshire County Council.

"As a regulatory body the CQC expects providers to make decisions based on all the information available to them; it is neither a decision-making body nor does it supersede our role as trustees to take decisions in the best interests of our beneficiaries.

"The current financial difficulties do not stem from Sister Frances’ retirement but from the fact that since 2005 costs have continued to increase ahead of income. 

"In that period there have been only three years when our net income (prior to investment gains or losses) has been sufficient to cover our costs and in all other years we have had to draw on cash reserves.

"This was obviously not sustainable. 

"The trustee body has full confidence in the management team and our focus at this time is on the staff, families and young adults directly affected by the changes we are making.

"The staff of Douglas House have demonstrated great professionalism and dedication in their care of young adults during these changes and we are making every effort to support them as much as possible.  

"We are extremely grateful to the local community for continuing to support us, local media who support our fundraising events so well, and indeed our local MPs, Anneliese Dodds and Layla Moran, who have raised the issue of funding shortfalls in the sector in Parliament. 

"We rely almost entirely on public support and we are asking people to help and support us in any way they can so we can continue to care for local terminally ill babies, children and young people."


  • 1970s: Sister Frances Dominica befriends the family of a little girl called Helen Worswick, a terminally ill toddler
  • 1982: Pioneering Helen House opens, named after Helen Worswick, and became the world’s first hospice especially for children
  • 1987: The UK’s second children’s hospice opens with staff trained by Helen House. The movement eventually went global
  • 2003: Helen & Douglas House opened its first shop, in Oxford’s Covered Market. Scores more followed
  • 2004: Douglas House opens, becoming the world’s first hospice especially for young adults. It is opened by Queen Elizabeth II
  • 2007: The hospice appears on the BBC documentary The Children of Helen House
  • 2013: Founder Sister Frances is investigated by police after allegations of historic sex abuse
  • 2015: Despite police dropping the case, Helen & Douglas House ask Sister Frances to leave the charity
  • 2016: The first set of accounts published since her departure show a large dip in donations
  • 2017: The Oxford Mail reveals the charity is due to close three of its charity shops including one in Oxford’s Covered Market
  • January 2018: The hospice announces another 60 redundancies and the closure of its adult services