Every cancer patient in Scotland will be allocated a support worker to help them manage practical and financial problems during treatment, such as access to benefits if they cannot work or booking exercise classes.

Scotland is the first part of the UK to launch the scheme following a joint investment of £18 million from the Scottish Government and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Their ambition is to ensure that every newly diagnosed cancer patient in Scotland has a dedicated support worker from 2023 who will carry out an assessment to determine their needs.

This could include completing an application for a Blue Badge to enable patients to park in disabled bays if they have trouble walking as a result of treatment, or sorting out benefits so that patients get all the welfare payments they are entitled to.

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Support workers can give advice, direct patients to counselling services if they are struggling with their mental health, or arrange exercise classes.

It is hoped it will allow cancer care teams in hospitals to focus solely on patients’ medical treatment and recovery.

The initiative is being rolled out nationwide following a successful pilot funded by Macmillan over the past five years in locations including Glasgow, Dundee and Fife.

The move was officially unveiled by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Dealing with the physical and emotional impact of cancer is traumatic enough without having to cope with the stress it places on other aspects of daily life for individuals and their families.

“This £18 million partnership will make Scotland the first country in the UK where cancer patients will have access to dedicated practical, financial and emotional help.

“The programme will help fulfil the Scottish Government’s ambitions to ensure everyone with cancer is offered a personal care plan and access to the support they need, making it easier for people to continue their personal and professional lives for as long as possible whilst under-going cancer treatment.”

While survival has improved and overall rates of cancer have declined in Scotland’s population, the actual number of people developing the disease has climbed.

Over the last decade the overall numbers of cancers diagnosed in Scotland increased from around 30,000 in 2008 to more than 32,200 in 2017. The growth is largely down to the ageing population.

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Among women there have been significant increases in cancers of the liver, thyroid and uterus, while in men the biggest increases in incidence have occurred for liver, kidney and skin cancer.

However, breast cancer remains the most common form of the disease in women, with lung cancer still the type most frequently diagnosed in men.

Janice Preston, head of Macmillan Services in Scotland, said: “Cancer doesn’t just affect people physically, it can hit every aspect of life.

“Too often people don’t know where to turn for help.

“Medical professionals do all they can but they just don’t have the time or knowledge to support people properly with problems like not being able to afford to pay their rent, or find the energy to make themselves meals.”

She added: “Macmillan has been testing the effect of offering one-to-one support from diagnosis onwards. The impact it has had in Glasgow and other areas in the country has been incredible.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with the Scottish Government to spread this support across Scotland as quickly as possible.

“Our ambition is to have it available to every cancer patient in Scotland within four years, making Scotland the first place in the UK where everyone with cancer will be guaranteed assessment and tailored care from diagnosis onwards.”

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Patients who have already benefitted through the pilot schemes shared their experiences as they met the First Minister in Glasgow. Pamela Harrower, Dunfermline in Fife, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2018.

The 37-year-old said: “I had no symptoms and was the healthiest I had felt in a while so it was a huge shock. My medical team were fantastic and during treatment I was so focused on getting through it that I didn’t have time to think about anything else.

“However, once treatment finished I felt I needed even more support. Thankfully Macmillan had sent me a letter a couple of weeks previously so I decided to give them a call.

“My support worker Sharon talked through everything with me which was such a relief. It felt like the first time I had properly talked about it all. She broke down all our needs and addressed each of them, from money worries to fitness and my mental health.

“My husband had to take time off work when I was going through treatment so we were struggling financially but Sharon managed to get us benefits we were entitled to which took off a lot of pressure.

“Having money worries should be the last thing during the most worrying time of your life.”

Her support worker filled in benefit forms for her and arranged for her to attend Move More exercise classes, as well as dealing with Mrs Harrower’s GP for medical issues.

“I didn’t realise how much support I needed until I actually filled in the Holistic Needs form and it was amazing, I got help with everything that I needed,” she said.

Mrs Harrower added the support she got helped her and her family move on after the trauma of her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

She added: “The support I have had has been incredible, for me it’s changed mine and my families lives. It’s helped us to move forward because I was sort of stuck in a rut after treatment, a bit lost and didn’t know where to go.

“I’m excited about it being made available across Scotland as everyone needs it. With the support Macmillan gives you can concentrate on the actual cancer treatment you don’t need to worry about anything else Macmillan are there to help you with that.”

Martin Morgan, also 37 and from Glasgow, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June 2018.

He required surgery and treatment straight away, but was also referred by one of his nurses to the local Macmillan Support Workers scheme.

He said: “I was really unwell and it felt like my whole life was up in the air so it was really helpful to have someone to talk it all through with. I couldn’t work because of the treatment so money was a big worry, but Natalie got me the benefits I was entitled to which was a huge help.

“She also got me a blue badge to make going in for treatment easier and put me in touch with counselling services. She was a great support to my partner and parents too, it was a worrying time for them and having her support really made such a difference to us all.”