The huge financial toll of cancer is captured in a new report which shows patients out-of-pocket by up to €2,000 a month.
As a result of the double whammy of loss of earnings and additional expenses - such as hospital car-parking charges, doctors’ fees, travel costs and higher heating bills - the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is again calling on government to ease the financial burden of those grappling with a major disease.
The, commissioned by the Society, highlights how ongoing illness disrupts employment, leading to an average drop in income of €1,527 per month or €18,323 per annum.
In addition, cancer patients are spending an average extra cost of €756 per month, rising to over €1,000 in some cases, in relation to medical expenses that can’t be claimed back, costs associated with appointments and many other expenses that they did not have before they were diagnosed with cancer.
The report found:
- The average cost of medicines and medical expenses was just over €261 per month
- 1 in 10 incurred costs from hospital stays, the average was €288 per month
- Over a quarter paid consultants’ fees at an average cost of €135 per month
- GP charges were an additional €81 per month
- Average costs associated with hospital visits was €291 per month
The report also found one in eight patients had additional childcare costs and 17% of those who applied for a medical card were unsuccessful. In addition, 45% of carers’ employment was affected.
ICS CEO Averil Power said people were “worrying about bills stacking up” when they should be focusing on their health.
“Most patients and often their partners are already suffering huge losses in income.
This can result in people having to choose between paying hospital charges over putting the heating on.
“It could also mean choosing to buy medication over putting food on the table. Nobody should have to make that choice," Ms Power said.
She said the Society is calling on the government to take a more “compassionate" approach to cancer patients.
The report makes a series of recommendations, including a reduction in the Drug Payment Scheme threshold from €124 to €100 per month (family) and €72 (single people); abolition of prescription charges for medical card holders; abolition of the €80 inpatient charge and an immediate end to the HSE practice of referring unpaid inpatient charges to debt collectors.
The Society is also seeking reduced car parking charges for cancer patients at public hospitals, automatic access to a medical card for all cancer patients (currently only under-18s), automatic, life-long medical cards for people with a terminal cancer diagnosis and equal access to the provision of bras, prostheses and wigs.
The research was conducted by Kantar between May and June 2019 using an online survey in which 514 people, a mix of patients and carers, participated.
Kantar managing director, David Berry said the research "clearly demonstrates the very broad range of areas in which cancer patients face new or extra financial challenges".
"The huge array of costs all add up to create a really significant and crippling burden on Irish cancer patients,” he said.
Separately, Enterprise Minister Heather Humphreys has announced an €11.9m research collaboration in the field of precision oncology, supported by Science Foundation Ireland.
Precision (or ‘personalised’) medicine uses data about a person’s genes, along with additional information on their cancer, to understand the unique pathways of a disease or treatment response in that person.
It allows doctors prescribe the right treatment in a timely fashion. The research involves five Irish universities, six Irish cancer research charities, and 10 companies.