Cancer is the main reason employers claim for their staff across all group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness), so it is especially important that employers know how to make the most of the support available under these policies.
As National Cancer Survivors’ Day approaches on Sunday 5 June 2022, Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD the industry body for group risk, explains how employers can support their employees who are affected by the disease:
- Be aware that a person who has, or has had, cancer is protected under the Equality Act from unfair treatment at work for the rest of their life and this includes making reasonable adjustments to their working lives going forward too. Employers that have a group income protection policy in place will be able to seek help with this, ensuring that their employee is fully consulted and involved in the process.
- Employers should ensure they are using all the extra support that is embedded into group risk benefits. This will often include access to an employee assistance program (EAP); a second medical opinion service – which can be crucial in establishing correct diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment for cancer; support from oncologists, and HR support and advice.
- Remember that EAPs can support line managers and HR teams too and that most group risk benefits will include access to this help. It’s vital to support line managers through this journey as many won’t have any idea where to start or how best to help their colleague.
- Group income protection policies often provide access to vocational rehabilitation support which draws on a wide range of assessments, interventions and services provided by a range of healthcare professionals to help determine how an individual can stay in or be supported back to work.
- There are lots of ups and down during an employee’s cancer journey, especially through the treatment cycle. Employers will find helpful support built into a group income protection plan in particular to provide advice about how to best manage a changing situation.
Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting, Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Employee cancer services are often 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.”
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: “Cancer is the most prevalent cause of claims on employer-sponsored financial protection benefits but the advantages of these policies go beyond being simply a financial lifeline for staff and their families at the point of cancer diagnosis or death. We know that for many, having cancer is no longer necessarily the death sentence it once was, meaning many employees will want or need to return to work. Indeed, 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.”
Employers need a greater understanding of cancer care to support employees
Many cancers are preventable. Around four in 10 UK cancer cases every year could be prevented, which equates to more than 135,000 every year. This is why it is so important for employees to be provided with health and wellbeing support. In the UK, smoking is the largest cause of cancer, and being overweight or obese is the second biggest cause.
Employers can assist with both factors by engaging employees with lifestyle, exercise, nutrition support and specific support, such as smoking cessation programmes.
Many providers now offer reward schemes for good health behaviours (when employees take part in exercise, meet a step count, buy healthy food or join a mindfulness session, for example), and actively encourage employees to take responsibility for their own health.
Screening plays a hugely important part in improving cancer outcomes. For example, lung cancer can be screened with an at-home sample test kit, with results in less than two weeks. The survival rate of 5+ years for lung cancer is 61% if caught at stage one, 39 percent at stage two, 15 percent at stage three, and only 4 percent at stage four. However, currently, nearly half (47%) of all cases of lung cancer in the UK are not diagnosed until stage four.
“The message here is clear. Screening saves lives,” says Debra Clark. “Screening is a simple, cost-effective option that is easily implemented by employers and can be literally lifesaving.”
Offering access to virtual GPs has also become much more commonplace, and this can make a real difference in enabling employees to get concerns checked out.
Survival rates are high
Many cancers have very high survival rates. Melanoma, prostate, testicular, thyroid, follicular, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and breast cancer all have a survival rate of over 80 percent for five+ years2 and half (50%) of people diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for ten years or more. What is important, however, is for employees to receive good mental and physical care to help them through.
Cancer care through work
A perhaps surprising amount of cancer care is available to employees via the workplace. Group private medical insurance (PMI) has a wide range of cancer support. This often includes fast-tracked access to diagnosis and treatment, access to medicines and additional support which may not be available on the NHS.
Cutting waiting times
Within the NHS, the target is for at least 85 percent of patients to start their first cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. This target has not been met since Q3 2013/14.
This is again where PMI can come into its own, ensuring a faster process in the treatment of cancer. Employees may choose to use a mix of NHS and private provision, to improve their access to care and lessen the burden on the NHS.
Employers should not underestimate the importance of post-cancer care. This too can be provided via health and wellbeing benefits and may include access to mental health support, therapy, physio, and rehab. For some employees, returning to work will be an important step in their recovery, and one for which they may need much support. It is possible for employers to offer access to specialist occupational health therapists, oncologists, and nurses to answer concerns and support return to work.
Support through cancer should follow the same four-pillars as any health and wellbeing support – physical, mental, social, and financial. An employer can ensure that employees with cancer and their families are provided for financially in many ways, from a lump sum on the diagnosis of cancer to payments if they are unable to work.
Cancer survival rates are higher in women than in men. While there may be biological factors, lifestyle may be another factor, alongside the ‘ostrich’ factor, where men may be more likely to stick their head in the sand and ignore signs and symptoms. Tailoring communications to specific demographics on support for cancer is, therefore, an important part in reaching all colleagues.
Debra Clark concludes: “Survival rates for cancer can be high if the right steps are taken. 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.”