Impact of cancer leaves sufferers ‘in financial crisis’

Irish Cancer Society report says financial impact of treatment up to €1,400 a month

Many cancer patients and their families face a financial crisis while going through their treatment, according to a report commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society.

The average extra spend per month amongst cancer patients surveyed, including those with a medical card or private health insurance, was €862, the report by Millward Brown found. Those who could not work, worked less or lost income as a result of having cancer faced an income drop averaging €1,400 a month, or €16,750 per year.

Working patients faced a severe drop in income while at the same time running up extra bills on 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.

The society, which recently cut its grants to cancer patients facing hardship due to increased demand, said the survey showed everyone diagnosed with cancer was 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”, said Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy and communications.

Three in five patients surveyed had a medical card at the time of diagnosis and more than half had private health insurance, but more than 20 per cent 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”, Ms O’Meara said.

The Real Cost of Cancer report says 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.

The additional costs identified in the report include €303 a month on medical expenses, €226 on increased childcare costs, €153 on food and drink expenses, €166 on travelling to appointments and once-off spending on home modification, special equipment, dental work and wigs.

Requests for help from the society’s financial support scheme rose by nearly 30 per cent last year and are up a further 15 per cent this year. This year so far it has spent €1.2m supporting patients, with most payments going towards home heating, childcare and travelling to treatment, including parking.

Ms O’Meara said the scheme, which is funded entirely from public donations, was becoming unsustainable, which was why a cap was applied.

The society said all cancer patients should have access to a medical card.

“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,” Ms O’Meara said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times