What proportion of those who apply for support from social care services are doing so because they have cancer? I imagine many local authorities couldn’t say, at least not without scouring through a mountain of assessment data. The nature and severity of an applicant’s needs tend to be the priority for social care, not the reasons behind them.
But people with cancer are facing a greater burden than many in local government may realise. New figures from Macmillan’s Facing the Fight Alone report show one in four people newly diagnosed with cancer in the UK will lack the support of family and friends during their treatment and recovery each year. And a third of those will be completely isolated.
This concerning level of isolation, revealed for the first time, is having a substantial impact on people’s quality of life at home. More than half of those with cancer who lack support skip meals or do not eat properly. One in four are not always able to wash themselves properly. Three in five have been unable to do household jobs such as cleaning. Almost a third are often or sometimes unable to do their shopping. One in five will experience difficulties looking after their children, partner or other dependents. It goes on.
Yet despite these myriad needs — which fall squarely into the potential remit of social care — only a paltry 2% will ask their local council for help.
I know the financial pressure local government is facing. I’m not saying we should arbitrarily bump those with cancer-related needs up an assessment band or two so they qualify for support from social care. But consider the bigger picture. Isolation makes it harder for people with cancer to self-manage their medical care. It can lead to missed hospital appointments and poorer treatment decisions, which in turn cause costly re-admissions to secondary care - especially at the end of life.
I would urge all local authorities to take heed of our findings, and ensure that the domestic and medical needs of people with cancer who lack support are rigorously explored during social care assessments. In England ask your Health and Wellbeing Board if your local CCGs are planning to commission the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative’s recommended cancer ‘recovery package’, which will help identify patients who lack support. In Scotland support the Better Cancer Care action plan and in Northern Ireland the Transforming Cancer Follow Up programme. No-one should face cancer alone, and with the right support from local government and charities such as Macmillan, they don’t have to.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
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