Cancer support group in jeopardy

THE future of a vital service, which has supported thousands of people affected by cancer throughout Northumberland, has been put in doubt after crucial funding has been discontinued.

The Northumberland Macmillan Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Welfare Benefits service, which started in 2007, looks set to close county-wide at the end of March, unless major help is found. A slimmed-down version may still be offered in parts of the region, with one CAB representative saying he is ‘absolutely certain’ that attempts will be made to keep it going somehow.

Jen Hall, for Northumberland CAB, said: “Five years ago when this service began nobody could foresee the financial problems currently affecting potential funders.

“Banks are not able to pass on the same level of profits to their charitable trusts, the Big Lottery has seen a huge increase in applications and local authorities have had to cut their own budgets.

“The Northumberland CAB will continue to seek funding for a service which has received outstanding client satisfaction levels and made a dramatic difference to client’s health, well-being and independence but at the moment we have run out of options.

“In the meantime, although we won’t be able to provide the same level of help and support, we will continue to provide the services we can from our volunteer generalist service or from other project funding if clients meet the relevant criteria.”

The service began with four years’ funding from Macmillan Cancer Support before Northumberland Care Trust (NCT) took over in May 2011. It was hoped that it would become part of a mainstreamed offer to cancer patients but pressure on budgets and changes in funding means this has not been possible.

Mrs Hall added: “We are grateful that the NCT extended the work for another year otherwise the service would already have closed.”

The service, which employs six part-time welfare benefit caseworkers throughout the county, including in Alnwick, Morpeth and Berwick, has provided help to over 3,000 individuals in the past five years, helping its clients secure £6million in confirmed financial gains.

It offers appointments in locations convenient to clients, as well as a face-to-face service in hospitals and hospices, and advice on benefits and other sources of help.

The caseworkers provide valuable assistance while CAB advisers are uniquely equipped to advise on other potential problems facing cancer patients and carers such as housing and employment issues.

Demand for the service has outstripped supply and the Northumberland CAB has continued to identify other sources of funding.

Some successful applications have meant that a slimmed-down service may still be offered in parts of the county for some time and Macmillan, health professionals and the CAB are looking at maximising these reduced resources to provide some sort of service to as many people as possible.

At Northumberland County Council’s north area committee on Monday, Bernard Pidcock, manager for Blyth Valley CAB but representing the CAB county-wide, said: “While the funding has come to an end, I’m absolutely certain that we are going to try to keep the service going in one way or another.”

Committee chairman Coun Pat Scott said: “It’s a concern that this funding is disappearing. If we can, we must try to help in some way. It’s a valuable service.”