Cancer ‘costing Scots patients £5000 a year’

Laura Graham's cancer had a stark economic cost as well as its medical problems. Picture: Contributed
Laura Graham's cancer had a stark economic cost as well as its medical problems. Picture: Contributed
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ILLNESS is costing Scottish cancer patients an average of £420 a month – or more than £5,000 a year – as they battle the disease, research has shown.

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support said a study had found 80 per cent of cancer patients faced finding extra cash for heating or travel, with those knock-on costs almost the same as the average monthly mortgage.

Cancer patients said being hit by financial difficulties at the same time as fighting for their lives was a serious burden.

Macmillan said a comprehensive, UK-wide study had looked for the first time at how cancer impacted on people’s finances.

The research, conducted for the charity by Bristol University, found many people with cancer faced the “double whammy” of increased costs and a loss of income. This left them struggling to pay household bills or buy essential items.

Some 35 per cent of Scottish cancer patients said they were struggling financially, with 8 per cent missing mortgage or rent payments and 12 per cent failing to pay their council tax at least once in the previous year.

Financial issues meant 28 per cent went without keeping their home adequately warm in winter, while 9 per cent missed paying at least one fuel bill.

The researchers said increased household fuel costs – which affect most cancer patients as they struggle to keep warm after treatment – were a particular problem in Scotland, compared with the rest of the UK.

A total of 45 per cent of Scottish patients had to spend an extra £31 a month, on average, to keep warm after diagnosis, while across the UK, 33 per cent faced higher fuel bills, paying an average of £24 a month more.

The research also found that Scots were hit hard by travel costs, with 52 per cent having to pay to travel to medical appointments, spending £87 a month on average.

Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland, said: “This new research shows that cancer comes with real costs, almost as much as a second mortgage for many cancer patients.

“Combined with the current recession and with welfare cuts, the cost of the disease is hitting the most vulnerable hardest.

“With the number of people living with cancer in Scotland expected to double to almost 400,000 by 2030, this growing problem of cancer poverty cannot be ignored.”

Kate Coulter, 52, from Ardrossan, Ayrshire, had to give up work in a nursing home after being diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2010.

She went from an income of about £800 a month to £320 a month in statutory sick pay before going on to benefits.

She said: “I don’t think people understand the impact of cancer on your finances. If you’ve been working, you take a big cut in income and that is very hard.”

Macmillan is working with councils and other organisations to develop a network of specialist advice services, helping people with cancer claim more than £100 million in government benefits. The charity also gives out grants to help patients struggling to meet their higher costs.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise the need for further action to support people to meet the challenges they face in living with and beyond cancer, especially as the impact of the UK government’s welfare reforms grows in Scotland.

“That is why we continue to work with Macmillan Cancer Support to develop the work of benefits advisers.”

Case study: ‘I worried about dying – and paying the rent’

When Laura Graham was diagnosed with bladder cancer at the age of only 27, the effect on her finances was stark.

The school science technician from Edinburgh was weeks into a new job when she was told she needed treatment for the disease. She had no income after stopping work and no way of paying bills. She had not been in the job long enough to qualify for sick pay but was lucky as her post was left open for her to return two months later.

Miss Graham said: “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I lost much more than £420 a month.

“I wasn’t eligible to get sick pay, so I had no money at all. I was worrying that I was going to die and at the same time I was worrying that I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent.”

Luckily, she was able to get a grant from Macmillan Cancer Support to help her pay the bills before she could return to work.

“If Macmillan hadn’t given me a grant, I don’t know how I would have coped,” she said.

“I don’t think people really understand the financial side of cancer. If you have been working and need that money to pay your bills and suddenly you can’t work because you are ill, it’s a terrible situation.”

She was lucky – her cancer was not aggressive and, after surgery and localised chemotherapy, she returned to work. She has been having six-monthly check-ups and no tumours have been found in her past three appointments.

“So, I am sitting on 18 months with no recurrence, and I am quite confident it is not going to come back,” she said. But she will not be given the all-clear until she had been through ten years without any tumours.

Miss Graham said it was hard enough as a single person facing the costs of cancer, but for someone with a family to support it would be even worse. “If you have got dependents or family, I can’t imagine how good it must feel to have the support from Macmillan there to help,” she said.