Children with cancer are having to travel twice as far and spend twice as much on journeys for treatment than adults, research has revealed.
Children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent found young cancer patients and their families face average travel costs of £180 a month for their “cancer commute” of getting to hospital for specialist treatment.
While the average journey is a 60-mile trip to hospital and back, one family reported to CLIC Sargent they had to endure an 800-mile round trip for treatment.
The charity also pointed out that treatment for childhood cancer can last anything from months to more than three years, meaning families face making the journey countless times.
Due to the nature of childhood cancer, different types require specialist treatment – which is only available at a small number of centres across the UK.
The issue has led the charity to launch a petition urging the Government to set up a Young Cancer Patient Travel Fund for children and young people with cancer and their families in the UK, and want to see £5 million provided annually to help cover the cost.
Under the current NHS Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme (HTCS), just 6% of families receive financial support with travel costs.
The charity added that the cost of getting to hospital and back is just one of the added expenses faced by families when a child is diagnosed with cancer.
On average, the family of a child with cancer spend £600 a month extra on top of every day expenses and bills, which they often struggle to find if parents have had to give up work or reduce their hours to be with their child.
Nicky Brown’s son Oliver, 10, was diagnosed with blood cancer in August 2016.
The family live in Plymouth, Devon, but their nearest specialist treatment centre is in Bristol – 120 miles away.
Oliver was given the all clear in May 2017, but relapsed earlier this year and is currently in hospital after having undergone a second stem-cell transplant.
Mrs Brown said: “On a good day the journey takes just over two hours each way, but with the holiday traffic over the summer it has sometimes taken as long as four hours each way.
“It costs us £80 for a return trip – something we do every weekend. That’s before you even consider wear and tear – we estimate with wear and tear it costs about £120 per journey.
“We have made that journey every week since May.”
Mrs Brown said the family has spent £1,280 on petrol this year alone as they travel to and from Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.
She added: “I’ve have had to give up work, because it is the second time around for Oliver on treatment.
“We are very fortunate in that we didn’t have debts coming into this, but we also know that if this goes on a lot longer it will have significant consequences and we are going to end up in debt.
“Nobody asks for this to happen. Nobody wants to be in this situation. Not having any support with travel costs can really affect a family’s emotional wellbeing because it comes at a time when we are already anxious and worried, so it just another thing to add to the pressure.
“It would make such a difference to people to not have to think about the cost of just getting to treatment.”
CLIC Sargent chief executive Kate Lee said: “Being told that your child has cancer is one of the most horrendous situations that any parent can imagine.
“No parent should ever have to worry about not having enough money to take their child to hospital for cancer treatment.
“The current Government travel cost scheme is not fit for purpose and available to too few families.
“We know that cancer costs and families are really struggling financially, leaving families counting pennies, relying on charity grants, borrowing money from family and friends, wiping out savings or facing being plunged into debt.
“This is not good enough and the Government needs to set up a Young Cancer Patient Travel Fund so that families can focus on their child, rather than worrying about mounting bills.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We know it is incredibly difficult for some families and their children when they have to travel for care, but often this is to ensure they receive the best possible treatment.
“Last year through our NHS Low Income Scheme we helped over 337,000 applicants on a low income to pay for health costs, including the cost of travelling to receive NHS treatment.”
The petition can be signed by visiting www.clicsargent.org.uk/ccam.