Last week I was visiting a lady who had only been out of hospital for a few days. She returned home and was already stressed about how she was going to pay her household bills while still being incredibly weak and trying to manage the gruelling physical and emotional consequences of cancer. Sadly her situation is all too common and something I’ve witnessed time and time again. This issue was also highlighted in the news just last week, from some new research provided by Macmillan. The survey revealed that hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are struggling to pay their bills as a result of their diagnosis, which is leaving thousands in debt, taking out loans, selling their belongings and/or downsizing their homes.
So why are people struggling? Last week I discussed the issue with a colleague of mine. We felt the potential list of costs is endless:
– Utility bills can get really high as people with cancer feel the cold more so they will have their heating on higher. Additionally, they are often at home for longer periods of time. Issues such as continence problems, vomiting and sweats can lead to there being more costs associated with laundry.
– Regular hospital visits can incur additional costs. I’ve known people who’ve had to rely on taxis as they are too weak to take public transport and there’s the increased risk of infection. Some patients might have up to three different appointments in one week on top of scans and other necessary visits which means paying for expensive hospital parking.
– Cancer patients are often forced to manage a loss of income if they need to stop working, this can also affect their partners and families too who may become carers. We had a lady who was an inpatient in the hospice and her children were really struggling with their employers allowing them to take time off work to visit. They felt guilty about asking for regular time off so they ended up taking holiday entitlement to visit.
There’s also the lifestyle adjustment that can come from suddenly having to rely on benefits and struggling to make end meets. One of my patients who I knew for more than five years had an advanced cancer diagnosis and during that time she was struggling to put her two sons through higher education. She was unable to work because of her treatment but desperately wanted her sons to go to university, which in turn left the family in debt.
There is financial support for people affected by cancer but from my work in the community I’ve known people who had been undergoing treatment for a number of years but didn’t even realise they were entitled to benefits or extra financial help. Also the benefits systems can be complex and at times a minefield to navigate in terms of knowing where to start, in particular when you’re feeling at your most vulnerable.
Macmillan’s welfare support is a vital service, for example, it can help people apply for grants to pay vital bills – and the good thing about the Macmillan grants is that you’re not made to feel like its charity, it’s done on a needs basis.
Short breaks and days out away from it all can have a profound effect on patients and their carers but the money doesn’t always stretch to allow for extras like this. That’s why we’ve sourced Macmillan grants for people at our hospice so they can go on a day trip with their family – it’s things like this that can make a big difference.
I think there needs to be clearer signposting to the types of support that is available for people affected by cancer and the professionals supporting them to ensure no one faces cancer and the subsequent financial impact alone.
To speak to a Macmillan welfare expert, call free on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, and ask to speak to a Macmillan benefits adviser. Or visit: macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/organising/benefits-and-financial-support