A Limavady mum has spoken of the help she received from Macmillan Cancer Support after discovering she wasn’t entitled to sick pay.
Leann Butcher was working as a part-time secretary when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012.
The 40-year-old single mum had noticed a lump and been to see her GP. Tests revealed the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes and Leann was told she would need surgery, followed by six courses of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.
Two days before starting chemotherapy, Leann got a letter from her employers, explaining that, because of her part-time contract, she did not earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay and was not entitled to contractual sick pay.
Leann had never claimed benefits before.
She’d worked for the same company for 12 years and didn’t know anything about her welfare entitlements.
Luckily, her Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist told her where to find the Macmillan Benefits Advice office - just down the corridor in the Sperrin Unit at Altnagelvin Area Hospital, where she was being treated.
Looking back, Leann said: “I don’t think I would have got through it all without them. I needed to concentrate on getting better and looking after my little boy, who was only six at the time.
“But how was I going to pay the bills? Where was the money going to come from? How were we going to cope?
“I didn’t want to get into debt but couldn’t see a way out.
“The physical impact of Cancer and treatment is hard enough - without the additional pressure of money worries. But the Macmillan North West Advisers were always on hand to help in the hospital, or over the phone.
“They helped with all the forms and really got to know me. In fact, I only went for counselling when they suggested it to me. They could see I was in need of help because they really did listen and care.”
Macmillan Cancer Support’s network of welfare benefits advisers in Northern Ireland last year helped over 6,000 people with cancer claim more than £14 million in benefits payments and patient grants.
Macmillan is working in partnership with Citizens Advice, North West Advice Services and all five health trusts to provide specialist benefits advice to cancer patients receiving treatment in Northern Ireland’s cancer centre and other cancer units.
Last year, the Macmillan North West benefits service helped people diagnosed with Cancer in the Western Health and Social Care Trust area claim over £4 million in welfare payments.
Jean Murray, a Macmillan CAB adviser, said: “Many cancer patients are suddenly faced with a life-changing diagnosis and loss of income, if they or their partner have to stop working. Few are aware of which benefits payments they can claim and don’t know where to start because they may never have dealt with our complex welfare system. It can be overwhelming. That’s where we can help.”
Barry McVeigh, Macmillan Development Manager in Northern Ireland, says: “We would like to see every cancer patient referred for benefits advice to help to stop escalating financial difficulties and worries at a time when people should only have to focus on their health.”
For more information visit www.macmillan.org.uk/moneyworries or call free on 0808 808 00 00.