Macmillan’s support and help for cancer patients

David Swinton during his talk with Morpeth Rotary Club President Andrew Hamnett, right, looking on.
David Swinton during his talk with Morpeth Rotary Club President Andrew Hamnett, right, looking on.

Morpeth Rotary Club

The guest speaker at a recent club meeting, David Swinton, came to Stannington from Scotland 25 years ago and worked in the North East motor trade.

Now retired, he joined Macmillan Cancer Support as a volunteer and he enjoys his other passions of motor sport and acting – he is a director of dramatic productions in Whitley Bay and Morpeth.

Macmillan is a major UK charity that gives help and advice to anyone, patient or family member, who have had some contact with cancer.

It was founded by Douglas Macmillan in 1911 following the death of his father, who died of cancer.

Douglas was upset at what he believed was the total lack of medical expertise in this area.

He was disgusted that there was nowhere to get help, advice and information.

Well before the NHS, he wanted volunteer nurses who could visit the patient in their own home.

He used a £10 legacy to found a society for the prevention and relief of cancer. It did excellent work but it was 1975, 64 years later and following two world wars, before the first Macmillan nurse was employed.

Three years later there were 10. There are 2,000 today – they work with between 3,700 and 5,000 patients and families.

Every day in the UK, 900 people are diagnosed with cancer. It is 42 a day in the North East.

Macmillan is there to meet any need of a patient, a carer or the family.

It can offer practical care, give a lift to hospital, share information, give advice and it has a website. There is a team based at Ashington.

It trains health professionals and others. It offers the services of occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, dietetics, welfare rights and bereavement counselling in addition to what is provided by the NHS or social services.

Macmillan grants provide for the extra costs of having cancer. They can cover extra heating, travel, needing a taxi home after chemotherapy and the cost of extra washing and laundry.

Last year, 6,000 people were helped with transport costs.

The question used to be ‘how long have I got?’ but 90 per cent of patients live a normal life after treatment.

However, it is a big challenge. Most people have to give up work at least temporarily. The Macmillan benefits advisers have identified £245million for cancer patients that families did not know about.

Last year, it found £9.5million in grants to help people with their lives. For example, someone with cancer of the oesophagus needed a blender to help them to eat and drink.

As more is learnt about cancer, fear diminishes, but it is still often a taboo subject. Failure to seek help early can make it too late for successful treatment.

Macmillan places adverts in print, on radio and on television to encourage self-checking.

Prostate cancer is a big killer of men over 50, but is not difficult to diagnose. Too many accept the symptoms as just the outcome of growing old. David added that the charity’s advice is ‘if in doubt, have it checked’.

Last year, there was a 15 per cent growth in people seeking assistance. Information can help and the charity has a good electronic information service. There is a postcode lottery as to which NHS areas do preventive work.

Macmillan has a chat line on testicular cancer, with supporting publicity from Manchester United. There is a help line that 4.7million people used last year.

Also in 2014, six million people used at least one of the information services and £186million was spent to giving help to people.

All services are paid for by voluntary donations. There are three sources – events, support from individuals and organisations like Rotary clubs and legacies.

The charity knows that direct marketing is disliked, but it is used because it works.

Events include 5km walks and the ‘biggest coffee morning in the world’. It raised £20million in Northumberland last year.

The team is always looking for new ideas. A school coffee morning in Alnwick supported by all the parents did very well and there are sponsored events such as a ‘blokes night in’, a long period of silence and a ‘no mobile’ day.

They organise expeditions to Nepal, cycle rides to Paris and back, Hadrian’s Wall walks, going up Ben Nevis at midnight and many other activities. In addition, there is a national gardens sponsorship scheme and help from Seaton Delaval Hall.

As well as being a major provider of services, the charity works with the NHS to constantly improve them. It campaigns for things like no prescription charges for cancer patients and getting rid of parking charges at hospitals.

The figure used to be that one in four was expected to face cancer in their lifetime – it is now one in two.

There has been a great improvement in diagnosis. More are being made earlier and more patients are surviving for at least 10 years.

This year, it is expected that 1,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer each day in the UK, with 50 to 60 each day in the North East. The need is not going away and Macmillan can only give support if the public gives it money.

During questions, it was noted that while Macmillan nurses are paid by the charity, they work within the NHS. There is no means testing to qualify for help.

A vote of thanks was given to David by Martin Jenkins.