Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The other battle of cancer patients ... to pay their bills

A shocking 75% of Northern Ireland cancer patients are on average £290 a month worse off after a cancer diagnosis, new research has found.

The study revealed that many people living with the disease face increased costs and a loss of income, leaving them struggling to pay bills and buy essentials.

Those in work, particularly the self-employed and those with children, are more likely to face higher costs, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Fuel poverty is a major issue in Northern Ireland with almost 40% of local patients not keeping their homes adequately warm in winter because they couldn't afford it

The UK-wide study, carried out by the University of Bristol, investigated how cancer impacts on patients' finances.

Among the findings it emerged that 11% of patients in Northern Ireland had missed a fuel payment in the past year. More than half of those surveyed said their fuel bills increased by £18 a month after diagnosis – more than double the UK average.

The study found many patients in Northern Ireland are struggling to keep up with financial commitments, with 16% using an unauthorised overdraft, 10% a payment on a loan or credit card and 7% failing to pay their rates.

High travel costs also hit patients with 67% paying £76 a month just to get to medical appointments.

Macmillan in Northern Ireland has developed a network of benefits advice services which have helped people with cancer claim more than £20m in six years and given out £3m in grants.

The charity's general manager in Northern Ireland Heather Monteverde said: "The cost of cancer is hitting the most vulnerable hardest. With the number of people living with cancer in Northern Ireland doubling by 2030.

"We need the continued support of our partners, including the NI Executive and the health service, to make sure every patient can access financial advice and support when they need it most."

Roberta Sands from Belfast found herself worse off by £750 a month after being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2010.

She said: "I don't think people understand how much cancer affects people financially but if you are working and your income suddenly drops, the impact is huge."

Macmillan is calling on the NI Executive to repeat the £100 payment it gave to people with the disease in February 2012.

Anyone affected by cancer in need of financial advice can visit www.macmillan.org.uk/financialsupport or call 080 8808 0000.

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