Include vocational rehabilitation in HWAAS, Government advised

The Government’s proposed new Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAAS) should prioritise improving the availability of and access to specialist vocational rehabilitation services for people with complex health problems, including cancer, thinktank The Work Foundation has said.

In its latest report – “Returning to Work: Cancer survivors and the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service”, written in partnership with the charity Macmillan Cancer Support – the foundation said that the new service, due to be set up in 2014, should have more of a focus on helping people with long-term conditions.

Within this, it has recommended that the assessment process be “as holistic and specific” as possible for each individual, that all stakeholders should be involved in the development and operation of the service and that it should be designed with an awareness of other services already offered, such as vocational rehabilitation.

Dr Tyna Taskila, lead author and senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: “The consequences of cancer treatment often include long-term fatigue and depression, and so require employers to make adjustments in the workplace. Our research shows that 73% of employers in the UK have no formal training for managing employees diagnosed with cancer.

“If the vocational rehabilitation services were designed alongside the HWAAS, we are likely to see more people in recovery return to normal working lives.”

The study has been published to accompany a complementary report by Macmillan Cancer Support, “Making the shift: Providing specialist work support to people with cancer”, which focused on the important role of vocational rehabilitation when people recovering from cancer return to work.

The Macmillan report has argued that a key reason why people with, or recovering from, cancer struggle to remain in or return to work is the lack of vocational rehabilitation services.

Its research suggested that fewer than 2% of people with cancer can access specialist return-to-work services and more than three-quarters do not access support such as workplace occupational health or from Jobcentre Plus.

The charity also argued that the rising number of cancer survivors means there is a need for comprehensive emotional and social care support to be offered alongside medical treatment.

Macmillan  has been working with the Department of Health and other healthcare charities to develop an assessment and care planning process to give patients the best quality of life after surviving cancer.

This includes a “support checklist” for doctors and nurses to make sure cancer patients are receiving practical, physical and emotional support.

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