· Insights

Cancer – giving employees the support they need

A cancer diagnosis is just the start of a difficult journey for any employee. So how can you best support them through it?

According to Cancer Research UK, every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. That’s nearly 300,000 new cases every year. And while the good news is that survival rates have improved dramatically over the past 40 years –from 24% to 50% (according to the same source) – the UK still lags behind other developed nations in terms of those survival rates. Despite the best intentions, one in four patients in the UK fail to start their treatment within the targets set by the NHS itself.

Whatever size of employer you are, there is a significant chance that someone within your organisation will receive a cancer diagnosis at some time. If not directly, they may equally be hearing about a diagnosis for a partner, sibling, child, parent or another close relative. It hardly needs stating that the emotional impact in every case is huge. While the NHS will provide a clinical care pathway and treatment will begin, worries about the wider impact – not least on work and finances – are all too often left for the individuals involved to face on their own. And those worries are going to have a significant impact on someone’s performance at work – because of the stress of dealing with the diagnosis itself, or practical matters like time off to attend clinical appointments or to help around the house during treatment.

So the impact is going to be felt by both employee and employer. And more significantly the impact on the employer is of a very different nature indeed. Whilst the NHS will deal with the direct clinical practicalities of treatment, the emotional impact – the dozens of often very basic but critical issues, from worries about who’ll walk the dog to just how long someone can actually continue in their job – are largely left to the individual to deal with. Or if they are your employee, to the HR department. Even here, where policies and protocols will exist and now be put into place, it’s unlikely that these will be able to cope with anything other than the basics as laid down in law.

At its most fundamental, your employees are your most valuable asset. The skills they bring to your business, at whatever level, are vital to the successful functioning of the organisation. Increasingly health and wellbeing support is seen as a vital responsibility of the employer. They are a part of the ‘package’, alongside pensions and holiday entitlement. Knowing that whatever happens support will be there for employees when and if they need it – both inside and outside of the working environment – is something they increasingly rely upon.

This is even more the case with cancer. Just as the NHS can provide a comprehensive treatment plan, employers need to be in a position to provide a similar wellbeing plan – a second pair of hands to help and guide the employee through all the myriad impacts a cancer diagnosis will have on their lives, and the lives of those close to them, who may have nothing to do with your business but who matter nonetheless.

The good news is that such support does exist. That second pair of hands is out there and ready and willing, and with the relevant skills which even the best employer would find it impossible to provide in-house. For example, we can provide a comprehensive wellbeing plan – from a personalised portal full of resources to a dedicated case manager who will ensure individuals’ care plans are built around their needs – which enables each individual to take control of their lives so they can continue to work and hopefully return to their employment following treatment faster. We can even chase medical records, source second opinions, and ultimately accelerate access to care.

Cancer treatment and outcomes are improving all the time, but the NHS can only do so much. It’s very much down to the employer to manage the emotional impact which such treatment will undoubtedly have upon the smooth functioning of their business. The good news is it doesn’t have to be an added burden for the HR team. There are others who are dedicated and experienced in delivering just this kind of support, and who can help you to shape, manage and deliver an effective strategy. Most importantly, they can ensure that your employees get the right kind of support at this difficult time, helping them to take ownership and control and get through these difficult times.

Malcolm Cairns is CEO of Reframe