Employers should tailor the support they offer employees with cancer and should avoid ‘catch-all’ solutions, health experts have advised.
Ahead of Cancer Survivor’s Day on 5 June, organisations have been urged to consider their support for staff with cancer, both during and after their cancer treatment.
This could include allowing flexibility in their hours or working location, easy access to toilet facilities or rest areas, and offering support from medical professionals who can advise on what to expect from their treatment, their return to work, and where to access mental health and wellbeing support.
Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc, a service that offers telephone appointments with nurses, said: “The first step in supporting staff who are receiving treatment for, or recovering from, cancer is a recognition that no two cancer experiences are identical. Even when two people present with the same type of cancer with the same treatment, they can have very different experiences.
“One member of staff may react entirely differently to the treatment, their lifestyle and personal circumstances will also have an impact, as will their individual character. Some staff may need a lot of time off, others less so. Some may want to keep things more private; others will want to be open. Employers need to be prepared for all these eventualities and adapt their approach accordingly.”
A YouGov poll for Cancer Research UK last week found that three-quarters of the British public think the NHS is understaffed and underequipped to tackle cancer.
Supporting employees with cancer
NHS England aims to diagnose and start treatment for 85% of cancer patients within 62 days of an urgent referral from their GP. However, this target has been missed since 2015, and as of March 2022 it was at just 67.4%. The NHS has cited pressure on diagnostic services as being a key reason for missed targets.
The health secretary revealed a 10-year plan to improve cancer services in England earlier this year.
Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, suggested that some employers might not be aware of the fact that they already offer cancer support for employees, resulting in these services being underutilised.
“Cancer care is included within a lot of employee benefits products but often the employers themselves are not aware of the full extent of the cover they may have arranged for their employees. Yet it’s vital that they’re aware: better understanding of the support available can lead to better health outcomes for employees,” she said.
“Screening is a simple, cost-effective option that is easily implemented by employers and can be literally lifesaving. Employers are in a position to make a real difference but only if they understand the support available and help employees utilise that support before, during, and after cancer.”
Cancer is the most common reason for claims on employers’ financial protection benefits, according to Group Risk Development (GRiD), the industry body for the group risk sector.
GRiD spokesperson Katharine Moxham said that many employees with cancer will want or need to return to work. “The workplace represents normality for most people, so being able to keep in touch or return part-time, helps to provide some much-needed consistency in their lives as well as a pay-out.
“Group risk benefits are invaluable in helping both the employer and employee navigate this journey with all the twists and turns it may take during the individual’s diagnosis, treatment and survival. No two roads from diagnosis through to being back in the workplace will be the same, so employees and employers should lean on all the resources and support that they have available to them which are provided at no extra cost within group risk policies.”