Lonely cancer patients failing to complete treatment, charity claims


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Thousands of cancer patients are missing crucial appointments, failing to take medicine or even refusing treatment altogether, simply because they are lonely, the UK’s leading cancer charity has said.

Macmillan Cancer Support said that lonely patients were three times more likely to struggle with their treatment plan, because of a combination of logistical and emotional obstacles associated with social isolation.

Lonely patients without access to a car reported having no-one to rely upon for lifts to chemotherapy appointments, nor anywhere to stay during treatment. Macmillan estimates that as many as one in five cancer patients experience loneliness following a diagnosis. Many aspects of cancer treatment can be painful, exhausting and distressing, and lacking the support and encouragement of family and friends could also lead to patients missing appointments and failing to take medicine, the charity said.

Based on their survey Macmillan estimated that more than 2,000 people may be skipping appointments because of loneliness, 4,200 are not sticking to their medicine regime, 9,000 were unable to collect prescriptions and 6,200 refused some form of treatment.

One in 20 lonely cancer patients, they said, refused treatment altogether.

Jacqui Graves, head of health and social care at Macmillan, said that living in a remote area or being unable to drive could become major problems for lonely cancer patients.

“They may also feel emotionally overwhelmed and too anxious to attend appointments or have treatment,” she said. “We know patients who have only attended appointments because friends or family have persuaded them.”

Ciarán Devane, Macmillan’s chief executive said: “It is simply unacceptable that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone or lack practical support to such an extent that they are missing appointments, unable to take their medicine or even refusing treatment, and that it’s putting their recovery at risk.

"We’re calling on health professionals to identify lonely cancer patients and make them aware of the support available so that they don’t have to go through their cancer alone.”