Cancer patients are being forced to bear the massive financial burden of changes in NHS treatment reveals a hard hitting new report launched today (19 July) by leading cancer care charity Macmillan Cancer Relief.
Macmillan's report, Free at the point of delivery? , reveals that cancer patients are spending hundreds of pounds on travel for their life-saving treatment. In fact in Macmillan's focus groups the average cost was £380. What's more, three in four hospitals are making money by charging patients for parking - and staff at only one hospital in five said they promoted a scheme that allows some cancer patients to claim this money back.
The side effects of cancer treatment mean patients often have to give up work, and may have to live on a low income; forcing many patients to make a choice between finding the money for travel to hospital and basic necessities such as food, children's clothes and household bills.
Travel is especially costly for cancer patients because the nature of the treatment requires them to make frequent hospital visits for, for example, diagnostic checks, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, follow-up and palliative care - on average 60 trips from diagnosis to follow-up patients told Macmillan.
Other key findings include:
- Cancer services are becoming increasingly centralised and so patients have to travel greater distances for specialist services - round trips of over 100 miles in some cases.
- As more people are being treated on a day-patient basis, the NHS is saving £200 per patient per day however the financial burden has shifted to the patient in the form of increased travel costs .
- Public transport simply is not suitable; five in six health professionals questioned said it did not provide a good service for cancer patients. Patients feared not being able to get a seat, pain and fatigue making them too ill to stand, and nausea forcing them to get off public transport several times before finishing their journey. Contact with the public also increases their risk of infection.
- Three in four hospitals are making money by charging patients up to £30 a day for parking and, of those, three in five offer no discounts for patients undergoing life-saving cancer treatment. On top of this, patients need to find the money for petrol and toll charges.
Help is at hand for those on benefits such as Income Support, who are entitled to claim back travel costs through the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme (HTCS). However Macmillan's research shows these costs also have a serious impact on those who aren't eligible. The scheme does not cover the cost of overnight accommodation (a problem for outpatients travelling long distances for treatment), nor does it help with visitors' travel costs.
Macmillan is calling on the Government to ensure the HTCS is publicised to all those currently eligible, to ensure cancer patients get free hospital parking and to commit to review the HTCS to ensure all cancer patients attending treatment are eligible - not just those on benefits.
Peter Cardy, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Relief, said: 'It is outrageous that cancer patients should have the added stress of trying to find the money to travel for their life-saving treatment, as if having cancer isn't stressful enough. That's why Macmillan is calling on the Government to allow all cancer patients to get help with travel costs.'
'We don't want any more patients to have to go through this - patients like 31-year old Chris. His diagnosis with Hodgkin's Disease meant his mortgage fell through so he had to move back in with his parents, and he had to rely on his parents to buy a car in order to get to his hospital appointments an hour away. No one at the hospital told him he was entitled to claim back the money he'd spent on petrol and parking for those 20 hospital visits, so he instead he had to struggle on and worry about his mounting debts.'