Organisations should ramp up their support for employees with cancer ahead of a predicted surge in diagnoses, according to a nurse provider.
Between April 2020 and May 2021, the number of referrals for cancer support dropped by 55% on the normal average monthly rate, according to RedArc.
The company, which provides nursing support by phone, said the reduction in referrals was because of a delay in cancer diagnosis due to a reduction in NHS capacity and fewer patients seeing their GP during the pandemic, not an overall reduction in cancer cases.
Its findings echo warnings by Public Health England that thousands of people may have the disease but have not yet started treatment.
Official figures show that early cancer diagnoses detected at stage one have dropped by a third and 45,000 fewer people started cancer treatment between the start of the pandemic and March 2021.
Back in May, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that A&E units were “struggling to cope” with the number of people seeking treatment for cancer and other serious health conditions and who did not seek help during the pandemic.
Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, said there would be a “tsunami of new cancer diagnoses in the second half of the year.”
She added: “Many routine screening services were disrupted and people were reticent to attend medical appointments when the pandemic was at its peak in 2020. Even though most have resumed, cancer services are now under strain and waiting times have increased, which is likely to lead to a stream of more severe cases.
“Employers really need to gear up their support for employees who are diagnosed with cancer so they can confidently provide a broad range of support depending on their employees’ needs. In particular, those who delayed or missed screening appointments during the past year may well need extra help in coming to terms with their diagnosis which is likely to be more advanced.”
Husbands said cancer support needs to be tailored to the individual and may need to include practical support at home and courses of therapy and counselling.
Patients might also want to keep in touch with their employer and continue to work provided that they are able to with their treatment.
“Under normal circumstances, cancer is difficult enough but with an overstretched NHS, employees are likely to need additional support more than ever. Neither employees nor their employers can know how an individual’s cancer experience will evolve but by providing comprehensive support, employers can be satisfied that they are doing everything they can when it matters most,” said Husbands.