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Government's return to work support services must do more for people with cancer, says The Work Foundation

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The Government must seize the opportunity to significantly improve the lives of people with long-term conditions such as cancer by supporting those ready to return to work, according to The Work Foundation.

A paper published today sets out the vital issues that the Government needs to address in its recently announced new return to work support services.

The report, Returning to work: Cancer survivors and the Health and Work assessment and Advisory Service has been written in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. It outlines the crucial role of vocational rehabilitation in returning to work for people with cancer.

The Work Foundation has said more than 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer and claim an individual with a cancer diagnosis is 37% more likely to be unemployed than an individual without one.

It claims this is due to a lack of support from the Government, healthcare professionals and employers - despite evidence which shows employing cancer survivors would contribute over £16 billion to the economy each year.

The Work Foundation's paper has called for the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAAS) - part of the Government's response to the Sickness Absence Review - to also focus on those with long-term conditions. Its recommendations include:

  • The assessment process needs to be as holistic and specific to the individual as possible.
  • The Government must involve all stakeholders in the development and operation of the service.
  • The service should be designed with an awareness of other services, such as vocational rehabilitation - ensuring a 'dovetail' between the programmes.

Dr Tyna Taskila, lead author and senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: "Attitudinal barriers are also an issue. Some clinicians do not view employment as a priority, yet we know that work is beneficial to people recovering from long-term conditions like cancer.

"This is especially important as more cancers are now manageable."

Ciaran Devane, chief executive, Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Supporting people with cancer to stay in, or return to work after treatment, not only helps them to regain normality, social contact and an income, it also has wider economic and social benefits.

"While the Government's response to the Sickness Absence Review is promising, it fails to consider the role of secondary healthcare, including NHS rehabilitation services, in helping people back to work.

"The NHS must be encouraged to recognise returning to work as an integral part of patients' overall recovery as well as curing the disease."