Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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Fantastic news! Our numbers are increasing again…

Age UK Northumberland (AUKN) is delighted to announce that they will be joining the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy  programme after successfully securing funding from Macmillan Cancer Support to deliver a dedicated advocacy service for older people affected by cancer throughout Northumberland for three years.


Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland is Patron of OPAAL and said “I am absolutely delighted that the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme is coming to Northumberland. Older people affected by cancer can have such a rotten time so giving other older people with their own experience of cancer the opportunity to come forward to be trained as advocates to support them in their local community is wonderful.”

The Duchess of Northumberland. Photograph by Margaret Whittaker

The Duchess of Northumberland. Photograph by Margaret Whittaker

AUKN is an established health and social care based charity across the county of Northumberland and its services include befriending, advocacy, practical support, information advice and guidance, welfare benefits (case work including representation at tribunal) and housing & social care options casework/advice/assessments, health & wellbeing exercise programmes for older people. AUKN has been a trusted source of advocacy in Northumberland for the last 7 years offering general advocacy and specialist advocacy support to older people encountering financial abuse, scams and housing & social care options. Advocacy is a vital service supporting older people who find it difficult to voice their wishes and those who are denied or are unable to access treatment, services, benefits and support.


Data from Northumberland’s Health and Wellbeing Board Cancer Profile (Northern and Yorkshire Cancer Registry and Information Service (NYCRIS)) reveals that almost 1900 people in Northumberland are diagnosed with cancer each year and over 900 die of the disease, accounting for 28% of all deaths. Northumberland is ranked as the 29th most deprived local authority in England and there is a link to social deprivation and significantly worse outcomes for survival and life expectancy. This is perhaps linked to lack of awareness of cancer signs and symptoms within poorer communities and restricted access to health services which may be magnified in areas of rurality such as Northumberland.

This project will fill a gap in specialist Advocacy services across Northumberland, addressing inequalities that vulnerable older people (aged 50+) affected by cancer face both with cancer treatment options and in access to healthcare and support services. The advocate will support the older person throughout their cancer journey, helping them to obtain all of the information and support that they need.

Deb McGarrity of AgeUK Northumberland in front of the Round House, AUKN's headquarters

Deb McGarrity of AgeUK Northumberland in front of the Round House, AUKN’s headquarters

AUKN is currently recruiting volunteers for this exciting new service and will hope to be rolling out the service soon. Please visit AUKN’s website for further information and updates: www.ageuk.org.uk/northumberland


Deborah McGarrity, Advocate Coordinator, Age UK Northumberland.


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Invest in ‘well-thought-out local initiatives’ says GP

Our work in developing peer advocacy support for older people at any stage of their cancer journey has come about as a result of research by Macmillan Cancer Support into health inequalities.  Reducing health inequalities would benefit everyone.

Many GPs, including Dr David Supple in Brighton, are all too aware that ‘the UK remains blighted by a persisting health gap.’

Dr Supple wrote to The Guardian newspaper last week on the topic of opening hours for general practice surgeries. He also laments the ‘decimation of local voluntary sector support agencies.’  ‘Surely’, he asked,  ‘the large amount of funding required to increase opening hours nationally should be diverted to well-thought-out local initiatives to reduce the health divide?’

Harnessing the skills and experience of older volunteers to support their peers through the cancer journey, ensuring patients can exercise voice, choice and control and get the most from the treatment and care available to them qualifies as such an initiative in my opinion.

The support our volunteer advocates give ensures that older people need not have a more difficult experience of cancer.  People who are uncomfortable with written information can discuss their options face to face in their own time at home,  those without the confidence to voice their opinion can develop the confidence or ask their advocate to speak for them,  those unsure of their benefit entitlements will be signposted to expert help, those who are anxious will get emotional support,  those without transport will get help to find the easiest option for them, those with caring responsibilities will be able to find out about carer support.

When thinking about tackling health inequalities we sometimes focus firstly on public health initiatives and lifestyle campaigns but the work we are doing also contributes to raising life expectancy and increasing the number of years lived in  good health and with quality of life.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Cancer Advocacy