Vital financial support provided by the Irish Cancer Society to more than 2,700 patients struggling to pay household bills on after a cancer diagnosis will cease at the end of the month.
The charity said it was withdrawing the financial lifeline to hardship cases on January 31 due to “unmanageable demand”, which it said was putting other vital services at risk.
The announcement prompted a proliferation of dismayed tweets and a flood of phonecalls to radio chat shows from callers expressing anger, disappointment, and disgust.
Of the 2,714 hardship cases in receipt of financial aid from the society last year, 226 were children. The average level of support given to those who applied was €572. Families of children with cancer were entitled to €2,500 over three years.
The support was a lifeline to patients and families struggling to pay household bills, often at a time of reduced household income. This was borne out in a report published by the society last year — The Real Cost of Cancer — which found the average cost to the patient and their family is €862 per month, rising to about €1,400 when job loss was involved.
The society defended closure of the scheme, saying its hand had been forced by being “unable to meet the huge growth in demand for financial support from cancer patients” which amounted to €1.8m last year.
The fund was axed in order to preserve “free and unique services which we provide to patients” which includes night-nurse care for end-of-life cancer patients in their own home.
Defending the charity’s decision, Kathleen O’Meara, the society’s head of advocacy, said they had “looked at all the possibilities” before opting to axe the scheme.
Asked on RTÉ’s Drivetime if this included looking at reducing salaries, including the CEO’s annual salary of €145,000, Ms O’Meara said it had been looked at, but “the board had passed the budget” in December.
She said cutting the salary of CEO John McCormack “would not have made enough savings to meet the deficit we were facing in 2015”.
In addition to his salary, the society contributes 16% of Mr McCormack’s gross salary to his pension fund, pays the approximate €3,000 annual cost of his health insurance and provides him with a Toyota Avensis.
Ms O’Meara said she recognised that people were angry and very upset, adding: “I don’t blame them for that.
“But I’d ask them to look at the fact that we are not State supported.”
In 2014, the ICS fundraised approximately 92% of its income. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it has awarded a grant of €600,000 to the society in 2015/2016 for the Travel2Care programme to help people travel for treatment.
The charity had also experienced a decline in income from campaigns such as Movember and Shave or Dye. In 2014, it had benefited from the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign, but it was a “once-off” and it did not see a repeat of this income in 2015.
There was little sympathy for the society on Twitter. Tweets included “Ireland’s top cancer charity axes hardship payments to thousands struggling to meet bills”, with another saying “Yet they have 7 million for staff salaries”.
The society’s financial statement for 2014 shows €7.4m was spent on salary, social welfare, and pension costs for 152 staff, of whom 12 were paid over €70,000.
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