Darlington CAB may have to cut advice service to cancer patients and vulnerable people

ADVICE services for cancer patients and vulnerable people with medical problems are facing the axe over uncertainty about future funding.

The Darlington Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) has been providing the free financial and benefits advice to patients for over five years but may not continue to receive £120,000 in funding from the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which replaces the Primary Care Trust (PCT) on April 1.

It means the loss of three full-time jobs at the CAB when the funding stops on March 31 and chief executive Neeraj Sharma has made an impassioned plea to CCG members to continue supporting the services.

He said: “We have got a host of information to prove how these services help people’s lives; the last thing people want to deal with when they are suffering with cancer is money worries.

“The message from us is really to urge our project funders to be mindful of the value of the services and of their importance for those who use them.

“These services are really important in Darlington - especially in these difficult times – and they always will be.”

Mr Sharma pointed out that when people fall ill there are many associated costs such as taking time off work and travelling to appointments, but most people are not aware of the financial support and benefits that are available to them.

In the last 12-months alone, one advisor who is partly based at the Macmillan centre in Darlington Memorial Hospital has supported 300 clients and helped patients claim over £1million in medical-related benefits since 2011.

Cancer survivor Peter Hill, 48, of Piercebridge, said he found the advisory service vital when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2009.

He said: “At that time of my life I would have been up the creek without a paddle if I hadn’t had their help.

“This advisor has done a tremendous amount of good, not just for me personally but also for many others.”

Redundancy notices have been served on three advisory roles; one based partly at the hospital, one who works with GP surgeries to identify patients in need, and a position in the male advice service which supports vulnerable men.

A spokesperson for NHS County Durham and Darlington confirmed that the PCT has historically supported the work of the CAB on a non-recurrent basis, but said it is for the CCGs to decide how it commissions services from April 1.

In a joint statement, the CCG’s chief operating officer Martin Phillips and assistant chief operating officer Jackie Kay said: “Darlington CCG has worked closely with CAB to understand what is currently provided in Darlington and no decision has been made regarding future funding for CAB.”

Stephen Guy, Macmillan Development Manager in Darlington, said: “Macmillan Cancer Support has funded a Macmillan welfare rights advisor for five years at Darlington CAB. It’s a successful post valued by Macmillan, patients and NHS professionals alike and we’re keen to see it continue.

"Negotiations are ongoing between ourselves, the CAB, the PCT and the emerging CCG.”

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