Cancer patients ‘dying in cold homes’, survey of palliative nurses finds

Irish Cancer Society calls for social welfare allowances to be extended to cancer patients

Nurses providing end-of-life care to cancer patients have raised concerns about people “dying in cold homes” as the occupants could not afford heating bills.

A survey commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society of 61 palliative care nurses found that one in three said they had provided care to patients in homes where there was no heating.

Two-thirds of nurses stated they had patients who struggled to afford to heat their homes, while nearly half said they had cared for patients in houses with no central heating.

Half of the group said they had visited homes where mould was present, while two-thirds had cared for patients who were living in damp accommodation.

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Three out of five nurses surveyed said they had treated patients who were having difficulty paying bills, such as rent, mortgage payments or utilities.

The research involved an online survey of palliative care nurses and was led by Dr Suzanne Denieffe, head of the school of humanities at South East Technological University.

A fifth of the nurses said they had dealt with end-of-life cancer patients who said they were struggling to afford food.

One nurse surveyed said they had been providing palliative care to a patient where the family “didn’t have fuel for their stove for their loved one’s dying days”.

The Irish Cancer Society, which funded the research, called for the household benefits package, which helps those aged 70 and older to pay household bills, to be extended to people with a cancer diagnosis. The organisation also called for the annual fuel allowance and the additional needs payment to be automatically extended to cancer patients.

Anna Drynan Gale, the charity’s night nursing team lead, said “energy hardship” was a real challenge for some cancer patients who had chosen to die at home. “I have attended to patients in homes where the internal temperature has been dictated to by financial concern rather than choice, evidence of condensation, mould and damp were apparent,” she said.

Averil Power, Irish Cancer Society chief executive, said it was “heartbreaking” to think some people could not afford to heat their homes in their final days.

“Specifically, we are calling for patients to be automatically entitled to the household benefits package, the fuel allowance payment and the additional needs payment,” she said.

“Each year, more than 9,000 people die from cancer in Ireland. All anybody wants is for their loved one to be comfortable and to live well at the end of life. The end result of ignoring these calls is cancer patients dying in cold homes,” she said.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times