Delayed assessments for disability benefit have left at least 4,500 cancer patients waiting six months or more to find out if they qualify for help, a charity has claimed.
Macmillan Cancer Support said a survey of patients had exposed the “shattering” impact of problems with the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
One in three said they had suffered anxiety, depression and other mental problems as a result, with more than half also reporting a financial impact - prompting fresh calls for urgent Government action to speed up the process.
The charity said it wanted to see waits reduced to the 11-week average for a decision on eligibility for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which PIP has replaced, to help meet extra costs arising from a long-term health condition or disability.
Officials from the Department of Work and Pensions have dismissed the findings, suggesting the survey should be treated with “extreme caution” because it involved only 210 patients. Official figures on waiting times are still being compiled.
Most people applying for PIP undergo a face-to-face assessment to determine eligibility carried out by private contractors, but MPs have alreday criticised “unacceptable” delays.
Some individuals with terminal conditions have died during the wait - which averages 19 weeks for cancer patients.
The survey found a quarter of those who have started their claim are stuck in the system.
Jodie Patten, 31, from London, said she applied a month after being diagnosed with breast and bone cancer in October but was still to be assessed.
“I have worked all my life, paid my taxes, and it feels like I’m begging for money,” she said.
“My finances have been severely affected while waiting, day-to-day expenses such as food become more difficult to cope with. I already have to worry about cancer, and I don’t need to worry about paying the bills as well.”
Macmillan head of policy Duleep Allirajah said: “Our report shows the real and shattering impact of these PIP delays are having on cancer patients.
“It is unacceptable that people struggle to heat their homes, are saddled with debt or are left anxious or depressed because they are waiting so long for their much-needed benefits.”
A DWP spokesman said: “Macmillan’s report is based on a very small sample size using simplistic calculations to produce results, which at best should be treated with extreme caution.”