27/12/2011 05:48 GMT | Updated 26/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Cancer Patients 'Relying On Charity Handouts To Pay Fuel Bills'

Cancer patients are becoming increasingly reliant on charity handouts to heat their homes as they struggle to pay rising fuel bills, newly-published figures have shown.

Macmillan Cancer Support said it had made one-off payments totalling £2,548,563 to 12,669 cancer patients to help with fuel costs during 2011, a sharp increase on the 7,369 patients needing similar help just five years ago.

The charity, which issued fuel grants of around £1.4 million in 2006, is calling for an ongoing independent review of fuel poverty - which was commissioned by the government - to prioritise cancer patients for help.

Commenting on the rise in charity payments announced by Macmillan, its campaign manager, Laura Keely, said: "To feel too scared to put the heating on because of soaring energy bills is an unacceptable reality for thousands of vulnerable cancer patients who feel the cold more and spend long periods of time at home.

"When the charity was established 100 years ago, founder Douglas Macmillan helped cancer patients by handing out sacks of coal to keep them warm.

"It is shocking that a century on, people who are diagnosed with this devastating disease are still relying on charity help to heat their freezing homes."

Studies have shown that seven in 10 cancer patients aged under 55 lose income after being diagnosed, often because they are too ill to work.

However, their bills often rise because they need to spend more time at home and feel the chill more because of their treatment.

Research conducted for Macmillan into fuel poverty has also established that certain groups of cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty, including those on housing benefit and council tax benefit or with a low annual household income.