Nurse praises Western Isles benefits service for its support

Debbie Nash talks of the financial struggles during illness.
Debbie Nash talks of the financial struggles during illness.

A mental health nurse has praised a Western Isles benefits service for supporting her through her treatment for cancer.

When Debbie Nash was told she had cancer, her diagnosis was complicated by the fact she suffers from an extremely rare, life-threatening allergy to a chemical found in many foods, cleaners, fuel and medications.

The 55-year-old from the Isle of Lewis, who also suffers from synaesthesia, was diagnosed with Small Cell Lung Cancer in 2015.

Like many people on the island she had to go to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for the start of her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, which involved organising transport and arranging suitable accommodation.

Further difficulties arose when a reaction to the first chemotherapy treatment caused a temporary loss of sight and hearing.

On her return to the Western Isles, Debbie’s Macmillan nurse Mairi Smith asked how she was coping financially.

“The answer was probably not that well,” says Debbie who is married with one daughter. “I’ve always managed our finances but I couldn’t see well enough to see bank statements and couldn’t get to the bank.”

Mairi got in touch with Kay Mackinnon at the Macmillan Benefits Service, which provides advice and information to people affected by cancer on the Western Isles.

The service, which is a partnership between Macmillan Cancer Support and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, helped 111 clients access benefits and other entitlements worth £464,882 in 2015.

“She came the 25 miles to see me and then patiently, through my haze of illness, dodgy senses and all else, managed to elicit that I was on half pay, that we had few savings to help and I hadn’t, in short, got a clue.

“Kay organised all the various bits of paperwork to get me Personal Independence Payment at a higher rate. She also helped me to apply for Employment and Support Allowance and made an application for Carer’s Allowance for my daughter. It was a huge relief, despite my having not really known I was worried at the time, and it saved us from crashing financially before it happened.

“I also received a grant and fuel vouchers from Macmillan, which were of immediate help as fuel is a terribly expensive commodity here and mileage has to be high with the nearest shop 25 miles away.”

Debbie says the benefits service is vital to people living on the Western Isles.

“Most people’s internet access is awful - many have dial up or none at all. Older people are disadvantaged by this and lack of mobility, once their driving license has been taken away, and also by being primary Gaelic speakers. Mairi and Kay and a majority of the Macmillan team are Gaelic speakers and can interpret English language information on conditions, benefits and so on.”

Kay Mackinnon said: “The benefits system can be very confusing for people especially with all the recent changes. My role is to advise on what they are entitled to and make the applications.

“People often ask me if I get fed up constantly filling in forms but knowing the financial difference that it can make to someone makes it all worthwhile.

“I am delighted to have been able to help so many people throughout the Western Isles get access to benefits and other financial support over the course of the last few years.”

For more information about the Macmillan Benefits Service, contact Kay Mackinnon on 01851 822644 or at