Taking out a critical illness policy can give peace of mind: A cheque for pounds 50,000 proved a godsend for one heart attack victim, Nic Cicutti reports

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FOR most people, August bank holiday is a time to relax, the last opportunity to snatch a few days off before Christmas. Doug Evans remembers last year's bank holiday as the time he had a heart attack.

Mr Evans, 46, collapsed at his sports club after a particularly tough game of rackets, a form of squash.

He remembered: 'I was in the club bar having a drink after the match when I started sweating profusely and then just collapsed on the floor. In many ways, I am the last person you would imagine having a heart attack. I am very fit, play sport regularly and I am not overweight.'

Mr Evans was rushed to Poole General Hospital, near Bournemouth, where he was diagnosed as suffering from angina.

'There were hardly any doctors there at the time because it was a bank holiday, so I was mainly cared for by nurses,' he said.

It was only after going to see a specialist in November and undergoing a further battery of sophisticated tests that the heart attack in August was finally pinpointed for what it was.

A month later, he received a cheque for pounds 50,000, the payout from a lifecare critical illness policy taken out seven months earlier with Axa Equity & Law.

For Mr Evans, a partner in a financial advice firm, the money meant being able to keep his business afloat.

He said: 'As I was not able to work for several months and was not earning any income for the firm, I was able to use the money from Axa to cover my salary and pay off some of the debts we were left with.'

Critical illness policies are a relatively little-known form of insurance cover. They pay out in the event of a range of life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, heart attacks or strokes.

Each year, 500,000 people suffer from one of these three diseases for the first time. More than half live for at least a year.

Unlike standard life insurance, these policies pay on diagnosis of the illness rather than at death. The money can be used to help pay off mortgages, go on holiday, take time off to recover from the illness or even, in the event of a terminal illness, to enjoy the last few months without financial worries.

Alternatively, as with Mr Evans and his firm Canford Insurance Services, they can be used to tide over a rough patch when earning potential is limited. The cover, taken out by each of the three partners, cost a total of pounds 62 a month.

He said: 'The policy was taken out by our company so that if anything happened to one of us we would be able to keep the business going without going heavily into debt. That is exactly what happened.'

Many companies now offer critical illness cover. Earlier this year, Eagle Star launched its Rainbow plan, which offers the belts-and-braces option of critical illness and life insurance for pounds 20 a month. This buys pounds 54,000 of cover, payable both on diagnosis and on death.

Sun Alliance has a Universal Protection Plan, whereby a person aged 30 would receive pounds 50,000 on diagnosis of a critical illness. Death benefits of pounds 20,000 are also payable. The cost is pounds 10.44 a month. Norwich Union recently added rheumatoid arthritis to its policy.

Mr Evans is now recovered and back at work. 'I still work a full day, but not in the evenings. I don't play rackets any more, so I'm not expecting to be anywhere near my old sports club on the anniversary of my heart attack.'

(Photograph omitted)

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