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08th July 2016

Paying the Price; the Financial Impact of Cancer

This article considers the often 'hidden' cost of cancer and what is being done in Wales to ameliorate the financial hardship that cancer often brings in its wake.

'' I was off work for 6 months but was luckier than most as I got full pay. After that I was forced to retire on ill health grounds before my 50th birthday and was on benefits. My cancer cost me my career, my income and my prospects.''

A cancer diagnosis is so shocking that personal energies are immediately focused upon treatment and survival. But for those living with a cancer diagnosis and the approximately 50% of survivors who make it to 5 years, what becomes increasingly apparent is what Macmillan refer to as the 'price tag' that also accompanies the illness.

Research by Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales has shown that beyond immediate treatment worries, the biggest concern relates to financial status. The research shows that 4 in 5 people diagnosed are 570 pounds a month worse off, and not only does income go down but often expenditure increases with travelling to appointments, parking costs and often in more rural parts having to pay for accommodation near treatment centres, usually based in cities.

''Suddenly I couldn't earn, I didn’t have savings and was at risk of losing my house.''

Fortunately a number of bodies are now recognising the importance of actively supporting those with cancer to manage financially.

Financial Advice

''My financial circumstances were complicated and I didn't know where to turn or what help I was entitled to.''

Cancer may lead to:

  • People stopping work and facing a loss of income, whilst having to cope with their additional costs.
  • Not being able to access vital financial support when they need it the most.

In order to better support individuals with a cancer diagnosis deal with their financial circumstances, Macmillan, supported by the Royal Bank of Scotland, have launched a financial guidance service providing free, independent and tailored information on financial decisions people affected by cancer might have to make. Delivered by a team of Macmillan Financial Guides the service seeks to minimise the financial distress experienced by people at a challenging time in their lives.

Welsh Government Policy

There are some important areas of health service and Government policy that specifically apply to people living in Wales. In June 2012, the Welsh Government published the Together Against Cancer - Cancer Delivery Plan. They highlight that;

  • Parking is free at most Welsh hospitals,
  • Prescriptions are free to all Welsh residents,
  • Health Boards in Wales must prepare a Welsh language scheme that outlines the Welsh language services their organisation will provide.

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, 2014 seeks to see people as a holistic whole, and better signpost individuals towards information, advice and support. Two of the Act's 'determinants' of well-being i.e. 'securing rights and entitlements,' and 'social and economic well-being...' appear directly relevant  to living with the financial consequences of cancer. Citizens Advice Bureau, Local Authorities, Cancer charities, the Benefits Agency and services working with those living with or having survived cancer will need to recognise the problem and act together to improve the financial circumstances for those in Wales afflicted by cancer.

See Macmillan's report, by clicking here: Cancer's Hidden Price Tag; Revealing the Costs Behind the Illness

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Nic Bowler

Welsh Care and Social Services Inspectorate Specialist

Dr Nicholas Bowler is a researcher and consultant to government-level [Welsh Government Review of Secure Services, 2009] – specialising in QA/compliance focused projects. He has interests in clinically relevant training, service development and research. He enjoys working with clients to support them in identifying problems and initiating projects to improve practice.

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