A lifeline to cancer patients swamped by legal issues

Hospital social workers have warned that cost, stress and sickness prevents many cancer patients from affording vital legal support, placing them at risk of losing homes, jobs and dying without a will.

A Cancer Council NSW survey reveals that nearly eight out of ten hospital social workers* have patients which are plagued by legal issues while coping with the stress of treatment, and at a time when many are unable to work.

Additionally, Cancer Council NSW research shows   cancer costs an average patient more than $47,000 from lost wages, and other mounting costs such as treatment, childcare and accommodation.   This leaves many patients in desperate need of immediate funds.

In response, Cancer Council NSW has joined forces with lawyers across Sydney who will provide free legal support to cancer patients on issues such as paying the mortgage, tackling employment discrimination issues, accessing early superannuation, and guardianship of children when a parent dies.

“Being diagnosed with cancer can be extremely traumatic and most patients are primarily concerned with getting through their treatment,” Gillian Batt, Director of Cancer Information and Support Services said.

“But bills do add up and quite often patients have to work through some really important legal issues to make sure they and their family are properly protected during these difficult times.

“We are now working with lawyers who are offering free legal services to reduce the stress and financial difficulties which can mount for many patients, especially when they lose pay from lost work during treatment.

Ray Araullo, social worker at Royal North Shore Hospital said, “When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are often in crisis mode with a feeling of being out of control.

“Trying to sort through your legal and financial affairs within a context of terminal or advanced cancer is enough to overwhelm anyone.   A recent patient was living this very scenario as well as trying to decide who would care for her teenage child once she was gone.

“The legal support from the Cancer Council was caring, immediate, decisive and professional.   Reassured that her legal and financial affairs were in hand, our patient was better placed to direct her energies towards her family during her final months.

“This legal service provides an opportunity for financially disadvantaged patients  to sort out their issues, reduce their stress and regain a feeling of being in control.”

For more information about the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, or visit  www.cancercouncil.com.au.

Media contact:   Luke Alexander (02) 9334 1878 / 0413 886 578

Notes to news editor
The Cancer Council Legal Referral Service covers:

  1. wills, powers of attorney and enduring guardianship
  2. early access to superannuation and disability benefits
  3. mortgages, credit and debt
  4. welfare rights and Centrelink
  5. tenancy
  6. employment, and
  7. discrimination

The program does not provide services in criminal law, medical negligence or divorce/property settlements.   Matters outside these areas are considered on a case by case basis.

*More than 80 NSW social workers were surveyed about the barriers their patients faced to accessing legal services.