Cancer Council NSW lead integrated advocacy-health services

This is a guest post. If you’re interested in writing one, let me know – petern@advocacyandrights.org.au

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In 2008, Cancer Council NSW commissioned a scoping study to investigate the establishment of a free legal service to assist patients to deal with these issues.  The scoping study, which included a survey of oncology social workers and psycho-oncologists working in NSW, reinforced Cancer Council’s understanding of the significant gaps in access to legal services for cancer patients as a result of cost, stress and illness and other barriers.

The need for people affected by cancer to access legal services to assist with employment, insurance, credit and estate issues is increasingly being documented in the literature (Zevon et al, 2007; Fleishman et al, 2006, Wright et al, 2002).  On initial diagnosis, patients often have questions around employment, as well as health or income protection insurance coverage.  In the employment context, for example, one study found that cancer patients experienced a range of adverse outcomes in the workplace following diagnosis including job loss, demotion, unwanted changes in tasks, problems with the employer or co-workers and diminished physical capacity (Maunsell et al, 1999).

As the disease progresses,  finance-related legal issues, including in relation to consumer credit, superannuation, insurance and welfare rights often become increasingly important.  These concerns  arise in large part due to the high cost of cancer (and indeed chronic illness generally). In addition to the direct cost of medical care and wages lost due to illness, patients may encounter significant out-of-pocket expenses for transport, accommodation, childcare, prostheses and complementary therapies.  Research commissioned by Cancer Council NSW in 2007 showed that cancer costs an average patient more than $47,000, of which almost $10,000 is on actual out-of-pocket costs (Access Economics, 2007).

If the disease progresses further, advance planning legal issues may arise, including wills, powers of attorney and enduring guardianship, as well as making arrangements for the care of children after the death of the primary carer. All of these problems add to the patient’s and family’s burden at a time when their reserves are already stretched.

Following the 2008 scoping study by Cancer Council NSW, in March 2010 it launched the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service to assist cancer patients and carers across NSW to access legal services in circumstances where they would otherwise be unable to do so because of cost, illness or other barriers. The Cancer Council Legal Referral Service now facilitates the provision of free legal services (including in relation to wills, enduring powers of attorney, appointments of enduring guardian, early access to superannuation and related insurance/disability benefits, insurance, mortgage hardship, credit and debt, Centrelink and welfare rights, tenancy, employment, discrimination, immigration and family law) by matching clients with its legal partners including law firms, individual solicitors and in-house legal teams.

Through partnerships with Cancer Councils in some States and Territories, Cancer Council NSW now operates a semi-national clearinghouse, referring patients and carers to a panel that now includes 273 law firms Australia-wide. Since it began operation in March 2010, the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service has connected over 1600 families nationwide with pro bono legal advice.

Louisa Fitz-Gerald – National Pro Bono Manager

Cancer Council New South Wales

About Cancer Council NSW: Cancer Council NSW is Australia’s largest cancer charity, with approximately 350 staff and over 3000 regular volunteers.  Through the development of prevention strategies, research into new treatments and cures, and by providing clinical and emotional support to those affected by cancer, we work towards realising our vision of a society where lives are not cut short by or their quality diminished by cancer.

References

Access Economics.  Cost of Cancer in NSW. Woolloomooloo: Cancer Council NSW, 2007.

Fleishman S, Retkin R, Brandfield J, Braun V The Attorney As the Newest Member of the Cancer Treatment Team. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2006:24(13):2123-2126.

Maunsell E, Maunsell E, Brisson C, Dubois L, Lauzier S, Fraser A. Work problems after breast cancer: an exploratory qualitative study. Psychooncology. 1999;8(6):467-73.

Wright EP, Kiely MA, Lynch P, Cull A, Selby PJ. Social problems in oncology. Br J Cancer 2002;87(10):1099-104

Zevon M, Schwabish S, Donnelly J, Rodabaugh K. Medically related legal needs and quality of life in cancer care: A structural analysis. Cancer 2007;109(12): 2600–2606.

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