All employers should be providing annual cancer screening for staff, according to a new survey of HR professionals on the impact of the cancer ‘epidemic’ on the workplace.

95 percent gave their backing to the need for regular, free cancer checks for all employees (based on a survey of UK HR directors and managers in January 2015 with 113 responses, carried out by Censuswide) in response to the growing prevalence of cancer among the working population, and rising numbers of cancer ‘survivors’ who return to work.

Professor Gordon Wishart, cancer surgeon and Medical Director at Check4Cancer, which produced the report, said:

“We all know someone fighting cancer, either through work or in our personal lives. Living with cancer for the long-term is becoming the norm for many people, with consequences for health services, families and employers.

“HR needs to be planning now for the future, thinking through in detail what the implications are, and in practical terms what kinds of support it can offer for its people, as part of its statutory duty of care, but also as an employer in tune with the real concerns and needs of its staff.”

The survey comes in the wake of new figures from cancer charity Macmillan highlighting how survival rates are now at their highest ever level in England, meaning 2.5 million people are currently living with cancer in the UK. Macmillan also estimates that, by 2020, around half of the population will contract the disease at some point in their lives.

Currently, 63 percent actively plan to introduce cancer awareness programmes and/or screening in their organisation (22% were ‘not sure’; 13% said it was unlikely).

The HR professionals surveyed were asked what they thought would be the impacts of cancer on their organisation in the near future. The greatest impact, they thought, would be on staff planning (63% saying the impact would be ‘very high’ or ‘high’); absenteeism (59% very high or high); medical insurance premiums (58% very high or high); other insurance premiums (50% very high or high); and 50 percent believed there would also be very high or high impacts on client relationships and management. Other implications were said to be: lower productivity, negative effects on staff morale, a need for more services and long-term support, such as counselling and family support services.

HR professionals tend to overestimate the role of the NHS in providing cancer checks. 78 percent correctly believed the NHS provided regular breast cancer screening; and 65 percent thought – also correctly – that cervical cancer was covered by the NHS. But 42 percent said the NHS offered checking for bowel cancer generally (when it is only available to 60-69 year-olds). 39 percent said prostate cancer was checked; 29 percent testicular cancer; 26 percent lung cancer; 24 percent skin cancer – none of which are actively provided by the NHS.

The findings are published in a new report, Cancer in the workplace: what does it mean for HR? The report can be downloaded here.