Cancer is having a major impact on many businesses across the UK and managers accept there are difficulties in dealing with it. Owain Thomas reviews the problems and solutions to supporting staff.
“But then equally it is a business they are running and so there is the issue of how the business can remain commercial and do the right thing by employees – but ones we spoke to were happy to admit they face these challenges.”
There are many ways that employers can tackle cancer and help to support those affected by the disease while also helping them return to work. These include prevention and education schemes, screening programmes, private medical insurance, income protection, critical illness insurance and other support mechanisms such as employee assistance programmes.
In the United States, an examination by Unum of its own claims data found more breast cancer survivors were successfully returning to work after short-term disability leave.
In 2009, nearly 64% of people on short-term disability leave due to breast cancer returned to work, double the figure of 29% in 2001. However the figures were less positive for those breast cancer survivors who had been off work for longer.
Over the past decade this figure has improved slightly, but has been hampered over the past four years for which data was available. Although there was a prolonged and steady increase in the numbers of people returning to work from 2001 (47%) to 2006 (55%), this subsequently dropped to barely half (50%) in 2009.
The insurer admitted it was not sure of the reasons for this recent decline, but suggested it could be due to improvements in dealing with short-term claimants, meaning only the most severe and hence hardest to solve cases were stretching into long-term claims.
Breast Cancer UK statistics also reveal rates of the disease have increased by 90% in the past four decades.
Although the main reason for this is largely attributed to improved awareness and a wider screening programme, Buck Consultants said employers had a part to play in addressing the issue.
“Smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and work-related stress are all things that current thinking sees as contributory factors in many cancers,” Buck senior consultant John Howard said.
He argued that wellness initiatives should be viewed as an essential part of any organisation’s employee benefits offering as the average company medical plan spent around 10% of its claims fund on cancer benefit.
Another survey, this time from GPs in Scotland, found patients with cancer were 13 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 14 times more likely to develop anxiety within a year of diagnosis.
They were also four times more likely to excessively consume alcohol compared with non-cancer patients.
All these things should be on employers’ radars, noted Lorica Employee Benefits senior consultant Sandra Hall.
“The expectation is there will be a continuing rise in cancer cases which is going to be at least partly driven by lifestyle issues and at least some would be preventable if people started making better choices now – but not everyone is going to do that,” she said. “So there is concern about the cancer provision heading forward.
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