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One in five cancer patients told surveyors they chose not to attend their GP or hospital for a healthcare concern due to fears over the cost involved. Shutterstock
Cost of Living

'They're facing grave choices': Survey shows cancer patients cutting back on heating over costs

The Irish Cancer Society said it’s “the reality of having cancer in Ireland today”.

CANCER PATIENTS ARE cutting back on heating due to cost, new research shows from the Irish Cancer Society shows.

The organisation has seen 30% more enquiries on financial issues this year compared to 2021 as the cost of living crisis continues, while one in five cancer patients say they chose not to attend their GP or hospital for a healthcare concern due to fears over the cost involved.

The findings come from a poll of cancer patients, carers and members of the public carried out by Core Research on behalf of the society, showing that over half of patients are fearful of keeping up with festive season costs amid rising expenses at a time when patients’ income can take a huge hit.

Home heating and petrol costs top the list of concerns as Christmas nears.

Patients are spending an average of €275 a month on heating, electricity and petrol for patients, on top of €200 for medical expenses.

Geraldine Lavin Geraldine Lavin Irish Cancer Society Irish Cancer Society

Some 70% of patients have also cut back on petrol or diesel costs.

These were among the main costs experienced by the 569 households affected by cancer surveyed.

Irish Cancer Society Director of Advocacy Rachel Morrogh said it’s “the reality of having cancer in Ireland today”, with the charity witnessing “a huge amount of anxiety” among patients and their families. 

Families are now “facing grave choices” in their lives this Christmas, she said.

“We are hearing that cancer patients have reduced what they spend on food so that they can pay for transport to treatment,” she said, while the survey shows three in four saying they have reduced their spending on heating compared to 60% among the general public. 

“Other families have had to stop their children’s sports activities because the money just isn’t there to keep them going.

“Another patient told us he wasn’t sure he had enough fuel to get to treatment and cut back on the number of meals he ate so he could save money.”

Morrogh said more supports are needed to protect patients from the costs of having cancer.

“These include providing a medical card to every cancer patient, removing hospital car parking charges, abolishing prescription charges and making benefits more openly available to those who find themselves in such an incredibly difficult position,” she said.

She added: “No cancer patient should ever have to reduce the number of meals they have just so they can afford to get to treatment.”

‘Buffer is no longer there’

Included in the research is personal testimony from Lucan resident Geraldine Lavin (50) who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. 

She was forced to rely on savings to cover day-to-day expenses for her family of four while she was in treatment, with extra expenses such as hospital car parking adding to the pressure.

“I am self-employed and my ability to work was impacted while in treatment,” Geraldine said.

“I had to pay for five hours’ parking at a time when I went into the hospital, which doesn’t sound like a lot but it is when other household expenses are piling up and you’re not working.

“We had to dip into savings so that buffer is not there for when you need it in future. Even after treatment new expenses that you never considered can keep popping up.”

Reliant on fuel

The Society noted that heating is important for households coping with a cancer diagnosis, with patients potentially spending more time at home between treatments while they are off work.

“Patients are also particularly reliant on fuel as they travel to hospital appointments, sometimes over long distances,” it added.

“Considering patients also face average out-of-pocket medical expenses of €200 per month, the combined result is a huge hit to their personal finances.

“Anyone who would like information and advice on financial issues associated with cancer, including on welfare entitlements that they may be eligible for, is encouraged to contact our Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.”

The charity is called for the following measures to help reduce the financial stress being experienced by cancer patients:

  • Expansion of the Household Benefits Package to include those with a cancer diagnosis;
  • Automatically extending eligibility for the Fuel Allowance payment to people diagnosed with cancer immediately;
  • Extending the Additional Needs Payment to people with a cancer diagnosis to alleviate some of the financial burden, including increased petrol/diesel costs;
  • Waiving the “burdensome application procedure” via a means test so that a cancer diagnosis should be the only qualifying criterion for accessing the payment for a cancer patient or their carer;
  • An investment of €5.1 million in public hospitals to reduce the cost of car parking charges for patients;
  • Medical cards for all cancer patients upon diagnosis, until their treatment is finished;
  • Abolition of prescription charges for medical card holders.

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