Cancer patients face financial crisis – Irish Cancer Society publishes report on Real Cost of Cancer

Many cancer patients and their families face a financial crisis while they are going through their treatment, according to the report of an in-depth survey called “The Real Cost of Cancer”, commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society, carried out by Millward Brown.
A large number of patients face a severe drop in income while at the same time running up extra bills on a range of items such as home heating, parking, childcare, travel, prescription charges, hospital stays, over-the-counter drugs, consultant visits, dental care, physiotherapy as well as clothing and personal care.

Cancer patients face financial crisis - Irish Cancer Society publishes report on Real Cost of Cancer

Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Irish Cancer Society, Alison Grainger, Senior Medical Social Worker at St James’s Hospital and John Langton, Cancer Survivor.

The average extra spend per month amongst cancer patients surveyed, even those with a medical card or private health insurance, was €862 while those who cannot work, work less or lose income as a result of having cancer face an income drop averaging €1,400 a month, or €16,750 per year.
The Society, which was recently forced to cut its grants to cancer patients facing hardship, due to increased demand, says the survey shows that everyone diagnosed with cancer is affected financially in some way.
“Our report shows that many cancer patients are facing financial stress, often real hardship, by having to deal with huge extra costs and a massive drop in income at a time when they are going through the severe physical, emotional and psychological impact of a very serious illness”, says Ms. Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications.
“While three in five patients surveyed had a medical card at the time of diagnosis and more than half had private health insurance, more than 20% of those who applied for a medical card after their diagnosis were not successful. But even those with a medical card or private health insurance had to pay out for the many things not covered such as childcare, hospital parking and home heating and in many cases, additional over the counter medicines”, she said.
Many cancer patients have previously told the Irish Cancer Society about the high cost of parking during treatment but the Real Cost of Cancer report revealed that the financial burden caused by parking is almost unbearable for some families. One patient reported that daily visits by his wife while he was being treated in a Dublin hospital for sixteen weeks, cost the household over €1,000.
“It is clear that many cancer patients are facing financial hardship as well as the physical and psychological impact of cancer. Requests for help from the Irish Cancer Society’s Financial Support scheme rose by nearly 30% last year and already this year have risen again by a further 15%. This year so far the Society has spent €1.2m supporting patients with most payments going towards home heating, childcare and travelling to treatment, including parking”, she said.
“This Scheme is funded entirely from public donations and is becoming unsustainable for the Society, which also funds cancer research, information, free night nursing, as well as a whole range of activities to support cancer patients. That is why we have had to cap the amount we give to patients, with the exception of the families of children with cancer”.
The Society is repeating its call for all cancer patients to have a medical card.“Under the legislation a medical card is designed to be available for those who are suffering financial hardship as a result of their illness. It is clear from this research that this is happening, yet more than 20% of survey respondents who applied for a medical card after their diagnosis did not get one. Self-employed people find it very difficult to get supplementary welfare although this scheme is designed for those who are in severe need. Some self-employed patients lose their income overnight when they are diagnosed with cancer.
“But if there’s one thing that came through most strongly in this research, it’s that no cancer patient is spared the financial panic and distress caused by this disease, despite the range of individual circumstances. Cancer is a financial catastrophe for many families,” she concluded.
The Society also operates a free information service for patients who need to know what supports are available. This information is available in a booklet called ‘Managing the Financial Impact of Cancer’ which can be downloaded from, by calling the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or by visiting a Daffodil Centre.

Overview of Real Cost of Cancer research findings

Specific average costs on medical care per month include:
• €303 spent on medical costs that cannot be claimed back. They include things like over-the-counter medication, hospital stays, specialist dressings and GP visits. These costs affect 77% of cancer patients;
• Four out of five cancer patients pay an additional €69 to cover the medication they need to manage the side effects of their treatment (for example, fatigue and nausea).
Specific average costs on additional day-to-day household expenses per month include:
• €226 on increase in childcare costs as a result of not being able to care for dependents;
• €153 on increased food and drink expenses because of the time being spent out of the home;
• €140 on increased heating and electricity bills (chemotherapy patients often feel the cold worse than people not going through treatment);
• €99 on additional domestic support;
• €53 on increased phone bills.
Specific average costs on travel expenses per month include:
• €166 on traveling to and from appointments;
• €62 on hospital parking;
• €179 on other costs associated with appointments.
On average, one off purchases cost cancer patients:
• €891 to modify their home;
• €653 on dental work and care;
• €511 on wigs and hair pieces;
• €215 on specialist equipment for the home (example, a commode);
• €704 on other one-off costs.

Loss of Income

In almost all cases, cancer patients are working less as a result of having cancer. Many have either retired or become unemployed.
60% of cancer patients are on a reduced level of income since they were diagnosed;
The reduction on average is €16,785 per annum or €1,400 per month.

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