A delay they can ill afford: delays in obtaining Attendance Allowance for older, terminally ill cancer patients, and the role of health and social care professionals in reducing them

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Despite a growing interest in holistic care for the terminally ill, financial needs are often not addressed. This is reflected in the fact that some people with a terminal illness are not accessing disability benefits, despite eligibility. The present paper is based on a study investigating delays experienced by cancer patients in obtaining Attendance Allowance (AA) by special rules, and missed opportunities for professionals to assist with claims. The study took place in a hospice where patients were referred to social work professionals for assistance in claiming AA. In each case, the patient had been eligible for some time before the referral. Over a 5-month period, all 22 patients who were referred completed a questionnaire. Data were collected to show their personal characteristics, how they came to be referred for assistance and their level of knowledge of AA. The length of time that people had already been eligible and the time taken to claim were recorded to show the amount of lost benefit. The health and social care professionals whom these patients had seen since becoming eligible were also recorded. A wide range of people experienced delays in accessing AA. Their total lost income ranged from £110.60 to £1106.00. The median was £387.10 and four people died before being awarded AA. Only four patients were fully aware of their eligibility. Every person had seen between one and four professionals since becoming eligible for the benefit, without the meeting resulting in a claim. Increased income aids the management of illness, and information and assistance to claim disability benefits need to be made available in a consistent manner at the earliest opportunity. Health and social care professionals are in a position to provide this. However, changes to the claims process, proposed by the present author, could ensure that AA is received automatically, without delay and without extensive paperwork.

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