Cancer families hit by cash worries
Parents of children with cancer in Northern Ireland are forced to borrow money to cover costs during treatment, according to research.
Families are struggling to meet the extra expense of accommodation, childcare, food and travel, said the report for young people's cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
Around 66% of parents surveyed said they were borrowing cash to make ends meet and 76% said extra costs were having a major impact on family finances, the report said.
Mary Ross Swain from Ballykelly, Co Londonderry, is mother to 18-year-old Michael, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in November 2010. His mother and her husband William were both out of work at the time of Michael's diagnosis.
Mrs Swain said; "At that point all we could think about was if Michael was going to be OK and how we were going to afford all the travelling and extra costs.
"Money was already a concern for us before Michael's diagnosis. My husband and I were not working at the time and I was caring for my father. So the prospect of lengthy treatment and the extra financial burden was overwhelming."
"Due to my situation, credit was not an option for us. We weren't able to get loans or credit cards and were worried about the prospect of lengthy repayments. Instead we were forced to borrow from family and we continue to get their support today. I've lost track of the amount of extra money we have needed."
Children with cancer in Northern Ireland travel an average of 95 miles, up to five times a week for hospital treatment at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Belfast. This means an estimated extra fuel cost of £370 per month that families have to find to ensure their child receives treatment, the charity research said.
Many parents are forced to give up work, putting even more pressure on family finances, with three in five (58%) of those asked saying they had to reduce the number of hours they worked. Around 6% of parents surveyed said they had turned to high interest, short-term payday loans to cope with the additional costs.
Cecilia Milburn, partnership manager at CLIC Sargent in Northern Ireland, said: "It's shocking to hear that some families felt driven to debt in order to get through financially. We want to work with the Government and other organisations to find better ways of ensuring young people and children with cancer, and their families, have the financial support they need."