Wednesday 28 September 2016

Parents' shock as Irish Cancer Society ends its financial support programme: 'I spent the hardship grant on accommodation close to the hospital'

Geraldine Gittens

Published 12/01/2016 | 13:50

Caoimhe Costigan (6) is fighting acute lymphatic leukaemia.
Caoimhe Costigan (6) is fighting acute lymphatic leukaemia.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured in March 2015 in support of the Irish Cancer Society' s Daffodil Day

Ireland's leading cancer charity is scrapping hardship payments to patients struggling with the cost of living as they battle the disease.

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The Irish Cancer Society said it can no longer afford the well-used scheme, which helped thousands every year to pay their everyday bills while undergoing medical treatment.

Last year alone, the fund gave out €1.8million in payments to 2,500 cancer sufferers, 200 of whom were children.

The charity said demand for financial help had soared since the economic crash eight years ago, forcing it to choose between the scheme and the other free services it provides.

"We greatly regret having to close this fund but unfortunately the demand has become too big for us to manage," a spokeswoman said.

Today, concerned parents told RTE's Liveline that they were shocked by the decision to cut the grant.

Edel Costigan from Tipperary said she used the €1,000 hardship grant to pay for accommodation while her daughter Caoimhe (6) was receiving treatment for acute lymphatic leukaemia at Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin.

“Her road is very, very complicated. She got sick quite quickly. Unfortunately she suffered life threatening infection and she spent ten months trying to fight it.”

“Our social worker at the hospital sought the grant for us. Fortunately we did [get it] because I was pregnant at the time.”

“Just from steroid treatment, it has left Caoimhe very debilitated. She can walk five or ten yards but that’s it, and she is facing numerous orthopaedic surgeries.”

To be close to Caoimhe while she was fighting the infection, Edel stayed in Ronald McDonald house in Crumlin.

"The accommodation came in at €3,500, so the €1,000 went into accommodation.”

“Everything else has to be paid, just because Caoimhe is sick, life doesn’t stop. The grant is only a drop in the ocean, but a drop in the ocean helps.”

“Just to have the ease, when you’re in the midst of a war basically, it does help. It’s called a hardship grant for a reason.”

“It’s going to be very, very tough for people [without the grant], especially if the treatment isn’t going according to plan.”

Caroline Connolly, whose three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumour at nine months, said she spent the hardship grant on improving her daughter’s bedroom.

“My child didn’t ask for a diagnosis of cancer.”

“It’s a thousand euro. I got it the first year my child was diagnosed. I had to put an extra layer on her wall in her bedroom, that’s what I spent it on because she was so cold from the chemo. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t leave the heating on 24 hours so I had to get someone in to heat her room. That’s what I spent the grant on.”

“We’re fighting for our children to survive,” she added.

Another caller, Katherina from Mullingar, said has been donating some of her pension to the Irish Cancer Society, specifically so that she could contribute towards the hardship fund.

“We were going through the last 12 months dealing with cancer here in this house. A young man [a fundraiser] called one evening and myself and my husband decided we would contribute. To help families who are trying to get to the hospital and are struggling.”

“I couldn’t believe [that the hardship fund is being dropped]. The heartbreak of trying to deal with the illness alone is a major thing.”

The financial support programme issued once-off payments to cancer patients and their families if they were unable to pay for food, fuel, home help, respite, childcare as well as travel and accommodation costs linked to their treatment.

The payments were capped at 1,000 euro per application, or 2,500 euro over three years for the family of a child with cancer.

The Irish Cancer Society said the scheme will end on January 31.

"As a charity, which is funded over 90% by the public, we have found ourselves unable to meet the huge growth in demand for financial support from cancer patients," the spokeswoman said.

"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."

The charity said it will continue to support financially struggling cancer patients with advice on other government and voluntary schemes.

Cancer patients can lose up to 17,000 euro a year in their income while undergoing treatment, a study by the charity last year showed.

The Real Cost of Cancer report revealed sufferers had to come up with as much as 862 euro extra every month for costs associated with their illness.

Those who are forced out of work or who have to work less lose as much as 1,400 euro a month.

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

"As a result of the findings of this survey, the society is taking on an advocacy campaign to have cancer patients have immediate access to a medical card once diagnosed; to lobby hospitals treating cancer patients for free parking for them and their families; to reduce the Drugs Payment Scheme limit to 85 euro from 114 euro and to have community welfare officers recognise the catastrophic impact on self-employed patients of a cancer diagnosis and to ensure they are financially supported."

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