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The big C forgotten – supporting colleagues with cancer

Jo Stoddart, Cancer Specialist - Bupa UK Insurance

With new figures showing more than 300,000 people missed cancer checks since the start of the pandemic[1], it’s never been more important for managers to help their people recognise signs and symptoms of the disease.

Cancer is fast becoming another cost of lockdown. Unless urgent action is taken, it’s going to have a huge impact on current and future workforces. NHS England data shows a 16% fall in urgent cancer referrals between March last year when lockdown began and January this year.

This is worrying because if you have cancer, you need to know about it fast. Early diagnosis can reduce the need for invasive surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy — and there is now a very real potential that survival rates will start to go backwards for the first time in decades.

The pandemic has positively shifted how organisations prioritise their people’s health. But with so many people missing cancer checks, employers now have an important role to play in raising awareness of the services available through company health insurance and ensuring employees are diagnosed as early as possible.

The legacy of innovation as a result of the pandemic should help. In healthcare a key development has been the expansion of remote healthcare services to speak to GPs, nurses and specialist consultants from home. At Bupa, we’ve stepped up remote diagnostics, including home testing for skin cancer and expanded at-home chemotherapy for some patients. These are helping employees access care quickly, confidently and in a way which fits around their lives.

Mental health impact

Cancer doesn’t just affect your physical health – it can affect your mental health too. A cancer diagnosis is life-changing and can understandably have a significant impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing that may last long after treatment has ended.

New research from national cancer charity Maggie’s found that three in five people who have or have had cancer, find the mental challenge harder to cope with than physical treatment and side effects.

As a result, we’re now seeing leading organisations shift towards providing a more holistic approach with support that looks at the whole person, not just the cancer treatment — by offering occupational health, mental and emotional support, as well as access to the right clinical care.

Programmes like these help people get back on their feet and to continue working, if they wish. For many people, this can be very helpful both financially and socially. Research by Macmillan Cancer Support shows that 85% of people who are in work when they are diagnosed say it’s important to keep working.

Bupa health insurance customers have access to our Live Well with Cancer program which supports people throughout the different stages of the cancer journey. It’s a valued part of our cover and provides physical, social, financial and emotional support.

As life slowly returns to normal, employers and health insurers must collaborate to prioritise early diagnosis and the support provided at each stage of cancer care once more.

Tips for supporting people during their cancer journey

Encourage check-ups

Early detection significantly increases your chances of surviving cancer. If you offer employees access to regular tests or checkups, you can improve employee engagement by promoting these benefits.

Lots of businesses have increased and evolved their health and wellbeing engagement programmes in response to the pandemic. Employers have a real opportunity to encourage people to take part in regular screening and to seek help right away if they notice symptoms that could be cancer. 

Be flexible

It’s important that people feel they can take time off for screening or treatment if they need it. If symptoms are addressed quickly it could mean less time off in the long term.

Working from home has meant that many of us are getting better at balancing our professional and personal priorities; it’s important this continues and people feel trusted to take time for their health.

Supporting a colleague return back to work after cancer

It’s not uncommon for someone who is returning to work after cancer to have mixed emotions, from relief and excitement to be returning to ‘everyday life’; to being worried about whether or not they’ll be able cope.

It’s a good idea to get in contact with a colleague before they return to work to understand what, if any, support they may need. Discuss whether they’ll be able to return to their usual hours, or if changes need to be to accommodate their return to work.

Empower and educate your employees on how they can best support the person returning to work, whether that’s just a friendly chat, or providing them with more information about what that person has been through.

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fears-grow-of-looming-cancer-crisis-3k7mv8876

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