Recession makes fundraising very challenging for Cancer Care West, says chief executive

The economic downturn coupled with recent charity controversies has made the task of raising €1 million a year “very challenging” for a local cancer charity which depends significantly on public donations.

However Richard Flaherty, the chief executive of Cancer Care West - the region’s largest cancer support organisation - says the public’s response to its fundraising efforts has been “amazing, remarkable and inspiring”.

More than 1,600 people throughout the west used its services last year. These included supports ranging from residential accommodation for people receiving cancer treatments to long term clinical, counselling and self-care services for patients and their families.

Mr Flaherty says the “amazing generosity” of people and volunteer groups from Clare to Donegal made it possible for the organisation to expand and develop its services in 2013.

Its annual report, recently published and launched by The Irish Times’ correspondent Lorna Siggins, indicates the demand for its services continued to grow during last year. Many services, including its 33 bed residential centre, Inis Aoibhinn, on the grounds of University Hospital Galway, are now operating at “maximum capacity”.

Mr Flaherty says Cancer Care West takes great pride in the fact that all its services are free. However, he adds that this has only been made possible because of the tremendous generosity of donors and its volunteer fundraisers.

It costs €1.5 million to fund the work of this Galway based charity each year. The organisation receives an annual grant of €500,000 from the HSE but the rest must be raised through 400 separate fundraising events which are held throughout the region by support groups and former patients.

The chief executive says the need for cancer care services continues to grow all the time as unfortunately more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer each year. He stresses that Cancer Care West is committed to supporting patients and their families through all stages of their cancer treatment journey.

Cancer Care West chairman, John MacNamara, says the organisation plans to extend a wide range of psycho-oncology services to regional centres in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Co Galway from early 2015. This will provide patients and their families with services which are currently only available in Galway city.

One of Cancer Care West’s most significant developments was the opening of its Inis Aoibhinn, residential centre on the grounds of UHG. Last year the 33 bed unit catered for 324 patients - up from 264 in 2008 - who stayed there for periods of six to seven weeks while receiving radiotherapy at the hospital.

Operations manager Jill Taylor outlines the centre operated at “maximum capacity” during 2013 which was an exceptionally busy year for staff and volunteers.

Each of the 33 ensuite rooms has twin beds which allow for a family member or a friend to stay with the patient receiving treatment. Last year 34 per cent of patients came from Mayo, 18 per cent were from Donegal, and 15 per cent came from Sligo. A total of 11 per cent came from Roscommon, eight per cent lived in Leitrim, and seven per cent were from Galway. The remainder came from Clare, Tipperary and Westmeath.

The majority of patients were being treated for prostate cancer (31 per cent ) and breast cancer (27 per cent ).

One of Cancer Care West’s other major services is its support centre at Seamus Quirke Road in Westside. It opened in 2009. More than 1,300 people affected by cancer availed of the wide range of daily support services it provides last year. These include psychological therapy and counselling, complementary therapies, oncology information, benefits advice and emotional support.

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