Public condemnation of the Irish Cancer Society for scrapping a financial hardship scheme for cancer patients led Health Minister Leo Varadkar to urge people to continue supporting the charity.
Mr Varadkar yesterday appealed to people, even those disillusioned with Ireland’s leading cancer charity, to continue supporting its biggest fundraiser event, Daffodil Day on March 11.
Its chief executive, John McCormack, yesterday said he was taking a salary cut as part of the charity’s effort to find the funds necessary to maintain a financial support programme for children with cancer.
He said it was a personal decision to take the 7% cut, which will reduce his salary from €145,000 to €135,000 from the start of this month.
The charity said this week that it could no longer afford to run the programmes. A day later, in the face of mounting public anger over the cutback, it reinstated the hardship fund for families of children with cancer but said it would no longer be available, after January 31, for adults.
Mr Varadkar, attending the launch of Daffodil Day in Croke Park yesterday, said that, whatever about the controversy, the money raised on Daffodil Day was really important.
He said the numbers of people surviving cancer was increasing all the time and that had not happened by accident.
“It happened because of greater emphasis on prevention, better special services, funding from the taxpayer, and policies and strategies from the Government,” said Mr Varadkar.
“All along the way, the Irish Cancer Society had been a huge advocate for patients and had played a leading role in the development of cancer-screening programmes and treatment centres.
“They are a crucial partner, not just for Government but a crucial support for cancer patients and their families.
“And, whatever about the controversy that occurred this week, the money that is raised for Daffodil Day is really important in that regard.”
Asked if the State should be supporting families experiencing hardship because of cancer, Mr Varadkar said the Department of Health’s budget on cancer this year was up by €10m but the money was destined for the health services.
He said the Department of Social Protection helped to support families and adults experiencing cancer, providing illness benefit, sick pay, and also exceptional needs payments.
However, his department would be open to holding discussions with the Irish Cancer Society on how funding could be increased for a range of health services it was providing.
Mr Varadkar referred to the charity’s night nurse programme and other supports that are part of the health services, pointing out that his department already provides funding for the transport which the society provides to patients.
Mr McCormack, meanwhile, said that he was delighted to hear of Mr Varadkar’s backing for the charity and its work.
“Now more than ever the Irish Cancer Society needs the support of the people of Ireland if we are to maintain the free services for cancer patients, which are run only by us,” he said.
The charity has Daffodil Centres in 13 hospitals and spends funds on cancer research in Ireland.
Jackie Austin and Rachel Marum from Rush, Co Dublin were among around 300 Daffodil Day volunteers who attended the launch of the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day yesterday.
Although it was a crisp bright winter’s day, there was a cloud of a different kind over Croke Park where the event was held.
Earlier in the week, the charity confirmed it had decided to cut hardship payments to cancer patients because it could no longer afford them. A day later, in the face of a public backlash, it announced it was reinstating financial aid, but only for families of children suffering from the disease.
And just before the rallying of the troops, the charity’s chief executive, John McCormack, said he was reducing his salary from €145,000 to €135,000.
The society’s head of fund-raising, Mark Mellett, said it was vital that Daffodil Day, March 11, reached its “ambitious” target of €3.5m.
Jackie, a breast cancer survivor, said she was disappointed that the hardship fund for adults had been cut but regarded Mr McCormack’s salary cut as an effort to make amends.
Both Jackie and Rachel are members of Rush Daffodil Day committee that organises lots of events for Daffodil Day in the coastal town.
Asked if people would be put off from donating because of the recent controversy, Jackie said she did not think so, with funds still available for families of children with cancer.
“I am hoping it will make people more enthusiastic about supporting Daffodil Day because they know that more funding is needed for the services,” she said.
Jackie, who was treated for breast cancer 13 years ago, said they did not have a problem raising money in Rush. They raised €37,700 last year.
“The charity is very close to my heart so I will keep supporting it,” she said.
Rachel believed the deaths from cancer of two talented performers, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, would also help the fundraising drive.
“Of course, they were not local but so many people knew them so they will still raise the profile.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved