Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Monday, 3 November 2008

Cancer patients' fuel bill fears

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A charity calls for fuel supplements to be extended to cancer patients

People with cancer living in Wales should be given winter fuel payments by the UK government, says a charity.

A survey by Macmillan Cancer Support shows that two-thirds of patients struggle to pay fuel bills.

The charity claims nearly 70% of cancer patients who use more fuel blame it on feeling colder since their diagnosis.

The Department of Work and Pensions said fuel payments were for people over 60 but a range of support was available for people with different needs.

Macmillan also wants cancer patients to be given a priority with help for energy efficiency in their homes.

Kelly Baxendale from Llandudno Junction was diagnosed with Aplastic Anaemia in August.

As a result of her condition the 25-year-old chef needs to be free of germs and spends most of her time confined to her one-bedroom bungalow.

She has to live on 60 a week benefits and has blood and platelet transfusions twice a week.

Doctors say her only hope is a bone marrow transplant.

"My house is my life," she said.

"I spend most of my time here as I cannot go out in case I pick up an infection. The heating is on 24 hours a day as I am constantly cold.

"I lost my home and my job when I was diagnosed and now I live on benefits.

"I have been in my council house only a few weeks and I dread what my bills will be."

Macmillan is calling for cancer patients to be helped by:

  • Giving them a winter fuel payment
  • Including cancer in the priority groups qualifying for help to insulate and improve the energy efficiency of their homes
  • Ensuring the energy companies provide specific and explicit help for people with cancer
  • Ensuring that cancer patients are routinely informed about the help available with energy bills.

General manager for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales Cath Lindley said: "People undergoing cancer treatment have to spend more time at home as they are often too ill to work.

"They also feel the cold more because their immune system is weakened, they put the heating on more and so their fuel bills are higher; all at a time when their household income plummets.

"Quite simply - they're trapped.

"It's a vicious circle and that's why it's so important to freeze out fuel poverty for cancer patients."

'Energy-saving measures'

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: "Any decisions on the expansion of the winter fuel payment rests with the UK government.

"The Welsh Assembly Government has led the UK in taking action to help those with serious and chronic conditions in Wales.

"We have introduced free prescriptions for all patients and brought about free car parking at the vast majority of NHS sites.

"In addition to these measures, we are addressing the issues faced by the fuel poor in Wales. It must be recognised that rising prices and the impact of global economic issues mean we face a significant challenge."

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions, which implements winter fuel payments, said: "Fuel costs in Wales have been rising and that's something the government is concerned about.

"The Winter Fuel Payment is specifically for people 60 or over, but a range of support is already available for people with different needs - whether it's direct financial support through the benefits system or longer-term energy-saving measures.

"Energy companies too offer help for their most vulnerable customers.

"People could potentially save money by contacting their energy supplier to see if they qualify for a reduced tariff or extra help making their home energy-efficient."

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