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Angry parents take to Liveline after Irish Cancer Society cuts off hardship fund

The fund was set up to help patients and their families who found themselves in financial trouble because of a diagnosis.

Updated 6.41 pm

THE IRISH CANCER Society has said it’s closing its financial support programme due to the demand being unmanageable.

Callers to Joe Duffy’s Liveline radio programme have criticised the move to shutdown the programme from this Friday.

One caller said that while the society does “trojan work” for those with cancer, cutting off this money to parents with children with cancer will be devastating.

Another caller said his child was diagnosed with cancer in October 2015. He said he couldn’t believe it when heard the news today that the Irish Cancer Society were “pulling the grants”.

“Kids are our future… our kids didn’t make this choice,” he said.

We live close to the hospital, but there are parents there travelling up from Donegal. I have lost all respect for the Irish Cancer Society for pulling funding… that €1,000 goes a long way for people. It is one less headache for people going through this.

Others questioned why support for cancer patients should be left to charities.

The hardship fund was set up by the Irish Cancer Society to help patients and their families who found themselves in financial difficulty because of a cancer diagnosis.

Patients could apply for financial aid if they were not able to meet costs associated with heating and fuel, home help, respite, childcare, accomodation needed for hospital appointments and also travel. The fund did not cover medication costs or rent.

In a statement from the society today, it said:

We greatly regret having to close this fund, but unfortunately the demand has become too big for us to manage. Since the economic crash of 2008, demand of the Financial Support programme has grown considerably and last year, 2015, the society gave €1.8 million to patients who were facing financial hardship.

However, figures obtained by TheJournal.ie show that the amount paid out to recipients in 2015 was in fact €1,551,775, and not the €1.8 million previously stated by the society.

In response to an enquiry by TheJournal.ie, an Irish Cancer Society spokesperson provided the following figures on families who have benefited from the hardship fund in recent years:

  • In 2015 – 2,714 recipients got €1,551,775, an average of €571.77 each.
  • In 2014 – 2,369 recipients got €1,526,633, an average of €562.39 each.
  • In 2013 – 1,835 recipients got €1,182,144, an average of €644.22 each.

The spokesperson could not provide figures for the total number of applications for the scheme, but said the proportion of applicants who are rejected each year is “very minimal.”

Huge growth in demand 

The statement added that as the charity is funded over 90% by the public, it found it was unable to meet the huge growth in demand for the programme from cancer patients.

Closing the Financial Support Programme was a difficult choice to make, but against the background of a drop in fundraised income in 2015, we were forced to choose between the free and unique services which we provide to patients, and the Financial Support fund, demand for which was growing at a rate which could have put our free services at risk.

It said it also funds cancer research, provides cancer information and support, a free palliative night nursing service, as well as a whole range of activities to support cancer patients.

The society said it continues to support cancer patients  who are struggling financially as a result of their cancer diagnosis by providing advice and information on the range of government and voluntary schemes which they can access.

It is not possible for the Irish Cancer Society alone to alleviate this financial burden which a cancer diagnosis brings.

Hope government and HSE will respond 

The statement said it understands the real cost of cancer and said the issue has been highlighted with government and the HSE . It said it hoped both would “respond adequately”.

Last year, the society carried out an in-depth survey called The Real Cost of Cancer, which showed that cancer patients and their families can face serious financial pressure while they are going through their treatment.

As a result of that research, the Irish Cancer Society said it is taking on an advocacy campaign to have cancer patients have immediate access to a medical card once to diagnosed, to lobby hospitals treating cancer patients for free parking for them and their families, and to reduce the Drugs Payment Scheme limit to €85 from €114. The scheme allows individuals and families across Ireland to only pay €144 each month for approved prescribed medicines.

It also wants Community Welfare Officers (those in charge of administering supplementary welfare allowance to those that need it in the community) to recognise the “catastrophic impact” on self-employed patients of a cancer diagnosis and to ensure they are financially supported.

Additional reporting by Dan Mac Guill

First published 12.35pm

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