Kevan Christie: For cancer sufferers, added money woes are devastating

Financial problems start to accumulate when a cancer diagnosis introduces unexpected new costs.
Financial problems start to accumulate when a cancer diagnosis introduces unexpected new costs.
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A report out earlier this week highlighting the financial impact of being diagnosed with cancer on thousands of middle-aged people should act as a wake-up call to the banking sector and healthcare professionals.

The No Small Change study by Macmillan Cancer Support estimates around 30 per cent of cancer sufferers in Scotland have no savings to cushion the impact of the disease.

Now, on top of having to worry about their own health, mortality and how to tell family and friends, comes the added pressure of having to notify the insurance company and bank manager of a significant loss of income.

Macmillan estimates more than 30,000 people with cancer in their 40s and 50s UK-wide have borrowed money from the “Bank of Mum and Dad” – their elderly parents.

Previous research by the charity put the average cost of cancer for the majority of people in Scotland at £420 per month in lost earnings or increased expenditure.

That’s a healthy pension contribution or a fair chunk of mortgage payment now missing, for a previously healthy 50-year-old dreaming of early retirement and days in the sun.

Throw in a couple of elderly parents with health issues and future care home decisions to be made, along with additional travel costs to and from hospital appointments and increased heating bills due to chemotherapy, and suddenly money worries are adding to the strain of diagnosis. This can have a hugely detrimental effect on the patient’s mental health and well-being.

That’s why Macmillan is urging the financial services industry to understand that money and cancer go hand-in-hand, with the need for support becoming increasingly vital.

Banks are uniquely placed to help “vulnerable customers” cope with the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis. However, the experiences of people with cancer can vary greatly depending on the provider. Despite some excellent examples of good practice across the financial industry, the available support is not always embedded or consistent. Financial advisers also have a key role to play ,having sold personal pensions and products like critical illness cover that are often difficult to understand and can have a long-winded claims process. This can be stressful for everyone, not just people who have been told their lives could be cut prematurely.

The last thing the Financial Ombudsman Service will want to see is pension pots, with their inherent tax benefits, being used from age 55 onwards under the recent rule changes – to provide cancer patients with nothing more than the money to make ends meet.

Banks and insurance companies should ensure all frontline staff are confident in identifying and helping customers with cancer. Staff should be able to hold sensitive conversations with these customers and be equipped with the skills and knowledge to refer them to more specialised support.

GPs should also play a part by asking about the patient’s financial situation and advising them it will become a key factor while directing them to relevant support. Doctors are in a good position to ask about money worries facing people affected by cancer but most patients wouldn’t think to talk finances with their GP.

All of the above comes as breaking news to most people who don’t give cancer a second thought, but with half of us set to develop the disease at some point in our lives – money should be the least of our worries.