Gearing up to find way through red tape maze


People with cancer need more than just medical help, which is why the Gary Kelly centre and Niall Reynolds are there for them, writes ELAINE KEOGH

‘THE LAST place people with cancer need to be is sitting in a clinic surrounded by others who could have bugs and sicknesses,” says Niall Reynolds (46) who is not a doctor but he has much experience in this area.

Reynolds works as a higher executive officer with the Department of Social Protection and has clinics three times a week in Drogheda, Co Louth, where he deals with claims for benefit from people in a variety of circumstances.

He never expected to find himself on the other side of the desk but that was what happened five years ago when he was unable to work after being diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.

When he returned to work he decided to use his experience to help others and he began to hold an additional clinic twice a month in the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre in Drogheda.

It provides a range of free support services for people with cancer and their families and Reynolds went there for reflexology after his diagnosis.

It is a welcoming and assuring oasis in what can be deeply troubling times and it is made very clear that the welfare clinic there “is for people with cancer only or the family member making the application for a cancer patient”.

It is a unique service and believed to be the first in such a centre in Ireland. When a person comes through the door, Reynolds does not know what needs they have.

“I just know they are cancer patients and they have a query about something that I may be able to deal with on the day or maybe something they need to clarify. Then again it could be a query about a medical card.”

There are a range of benefits that people can be entitled to, from a medical card to rent allowance or a heating allowance. The list goes on and Reynolds is an expert at finding ways through the maze of red tape.

“When I was sick and attending a doctor’s surgery, I started thinking about people coming into my clinic when it would be busy with 20 or 30 people sitting waiting.

“It can get quite busy and the last place a cancer patient needs to be is sitting waiting because of the closeness of people and the bugs that could be going around.

“If they get sick when their immune system is at its lowest, they won’t be able to go to get their next chemo because their body will be fighting off the cold instead of building itself back up for the next chemotherapy treatment.

“So I was sitting thinking, this is something I should do; it’s something you wouldn’t have thought of before because you were sick.”

The Gary Kelly centre welcomed the chance to provide the service.

“People are unaware of what entitlements are available to them when a serious illness occurs and need time to question and to gain an understanding of what is actually available to them. Niall’s service allows them that opportunity,” says Phil Harford, director of services with the centre.

She says illness places an extra financial burden on the family, especially in current times, and having the service in the centre in a relaxed atmosphere means “individual clients feel that they are given time and space to speak of their concerns”.

The feedback has been very positive with clients “speaking very highly of Niall, his knowledge and management of their needs. They are comfortable to make return appointments, readdressing needs as priorities change.”

Reynolds has always had a love of sport and as part of his treatment he was advised to take up exercise “that would help to expand my lungs”, and he returned to cycling.

He is currently competing in each of the five An Post Cycle Series – they are 160km long and held in different parts of Ireland.

Reynolds is also doing each in memory of five friends who were diagnosed with cancer at the same time as him but have since died.

He is fundraising for the centre and to support him you can donate online at

The Department of Social Protection says it provides a range of services in response to people’s circumstances, including the recent floods in Cork and when companies make a large number of people redundant.

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