World Cancer Day is on the 4th February and with  number of newly diagnosed cases of cancer in the UK continues to rise, survival rates also continue to increase and with the breadth of support available within employee benefits, employers need to encourage better utilisation of cancer support to their staff

Research by Group Risk Development (GRiD) has revealed that cancer and other acute conditions account for nearly 1 in 5 (19%) long-term absences among employers.

One method of support that employers can provide comes in the form of group risk products (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits). When employers implement group risk protection benefits for their staff they may do so with the primary aim of providing a financial benefit. But the benefit today goes far beyond that. Support is holistic, tailored uniquely for the individual and is designed to support the employee at every stage.

It can include financial help, rehabilitation support, physiotherapy, occupational health, counselling and sign-posting to specialist charities. Support is both practical and emotional, it starts at diagnosis and continues during treatment and beyond.

The support isn’t just for the employees but for the employer as well, as providers can give guidance on how to comply with the Equality Act, how to discuss a return to work, what outcomes to expect, and how to support other members of the team.

One of the most valued benefits that providers can assist with is communication between employers and their staff. Many employers and line managers are unsure how to start a conversation with someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer. Employees too can be wary about how to talk to their employer. Providers are able to give guidance on how best to approach this subject from both sides.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD says, “The group risk industry’s support for cancer is excellent, and that’s at every stage: diagnosis, treatment, post-treatment and sadly also in helping people deal with a terminal diagnosis and helping those left behind. Employers that want to fulfil their duty of care towards their employees will do well to look at offering group risk protection benefits. Those that already do, need to know the support is very much for them as well as their people.”

Individuals who are diagnosed with cancer usually need significantly more support and care than those with other conditions as RedArc Nurses has identified that on average a company supports a cancer patient for 234 days, but the average duration for other conditions is 204 days, 15% of extra time for cancer patients. Similarly, 20% of cancer support cases last for over 12 months compared to 16% for other conditions.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: “Even after an ‘all clear’, many patients still feel that cancer has control of their lives. That could be due to physical changes related to the disease, or because the burden of living with cancer creates new mental health problems such as anxiety, stress or depression.”

Employees and employers are need to be aware that cancer support is available via Private Medical Insurance, Group Risk or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) but the choice is no longer a binary one – to have or not to have. As those in the market for a new policy become better informed, they will be more likely to investigate the specific breadth and depth of support available and use that to help inform their buying decisions.

Even something as simple as a routine eye test can be a method of detecting many conditions, including cancer.

“We know the NHS does a fantastic job in diagnosing and treating the disease – just last week, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that 828* cases are diagnosed in England every day - but oncologist teams rightly focus on the primary illness and are often too pressured in terms of time and resources to provide very much additional support. Often the secondary issues don’t actually rear their head until the individual has been discharged from their initial treatment.”

With insurers providing varying levels of cancer support, employers should seek out a policy that not only helps their employee at an individual level, but also for their business, for instance some provide training for the organisation too. This can help the individual’s line manager; their team and the HR department be better equipped to deal with the illness of a colleague and facilitating a smooth return to work.