How to assess the impact of cancer on your organisation 

A cancer strategy that is appropriate to your business and people drives prevention through education and early detection. It should also offer appropriate healthcare benefits and HR policies for employees affected by cancer.  

The number of people living with cancer is set to rise. The charity Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that there will be 3.5 million people in the UK living with cancer by 2025.1

That means many employers and employees will be impacted by cancer, either directly or indirectly, at work. How can businesses understand the hidden impacts of this – and what measures can they put in place to minimise risks, control costs and support employees?  

A projection by Macmillan 2022 of the number of people living with cancer set to increase from 3.0 million in 2020, 3.5 million by 2025, 4.0 million by 2030, and 5.3 million by 2024.

Although we expect to see increasing instances of cancer over the long term, as of March 2022 the number of people starting treatment for cancer via the NHS in the UK was at least 37,000 lower than expected. This may sound positive, but it could also point to delays in diagnosis and treatment.  

The NHS has traditionally provided a high quality and timely service for cancer treatment, often comparable with the private sector. This has meant that most of the UK has used the public health system both for treatment and for quick access to primary care, such as GPs, which are important lynchpins in cancer diagnoses.   

But the impact of Covid-19, industrial action and lengthening waiting lists have taken a heavy toll on NHS cancer care, including delays in scanning and treatment. From a work perspective, this can reduce productivity, impact employees’ mental wellbeing, and drive longer term sickness absence.  

There are many employer and employee funded private healthcare options that can help, and providers are developing propositions at the fastest pace we have ever seen. This is great news, but complex, wide-ranging solutions can make it difficult for employers to understand the full scope of some products, identify overlaps and spot gaps related to cancer or other conditions.  

Managing the cost and sustainability of workplace healthcare funding continues to be a high priority, and late detection makes cancer more expensive and difficult to treat. Many employers are now seeing the impact of increased cancer diagnoses on their insurance programmes across private medical, group income protection, and in the worst scenario, group life assurance plans. 

Developing a cancer policy 

Employers can help their employees minimise the risks of cancer through:

  • Education around lifestyle choices 
  • Offering screening and early diagnosis  
  • Access to healthcare that offers a quick route to treatment
Developing a policy to support employees in the workplace with cancer should include both preventative and reactive components: 
  • Preventative

    Consider introducing or reviewing preventative cancer solutions, such as health screening. These can raise awareness of lifestyle risk factors and encourage employees to make healthier choices. Some solutions also mitigate the risk of other chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease.  

    Aggregated data from preventative solutions also provide valuable insights into broader health risks among employees, even if they are not absent or making a claim. This helps employers prioritise and refine wellbeing programmes so that they are targeted to relevant workplace health issues. 

  • Reactive

    Reactive care, both for cancer and other conditions, becomes more costly as an employee’s health worsens. The diagram below shows a range of options for reactive care, and also the increasing costs involved in using them.  

    Generally, most employees fall within the ‘Well’ or ‘At Risk’ profile. Therefore focusing resources on prevention should, in the long term, reduce the numbers in the ‘Struggling’ and ‘Unwell’ profiles as well as higher costs at the reactive stage.  

A projection by Mercer explaining that a policy to support employees in the workplace with cancer should include both preventative and reactive components.

Key actions for building a cancer strategy

We believe employers have an important role in promoting health awareness in the workplace. That includes helping people to recognise the warning signs of cancer and offering pathways to get symptoms checked quickly. 

  • Review your current healthcare provision as a starting point for an organisation-wide cancer policy, based on your current position and future focus. This should include private medical insurance, group income protection, group life, critical illness cover, health screening as well as other insurance where applicable. 
  • Use your review of current provision to understand where you are now, where you want to be and how you will get there.
  • Analyse demographic data and any health data to understand the current risk and impact of cancer in your working population.
  • Consider the ripple effect of a cancer diagnosis either directly (as someone living with cancer) or indirectly (as a carer or family member of someone with cancer, for example). This should include examining HR policies such as extended leave, flexible working, productivity, mental health issues and financial concerns. 
  • Develop and integrate health and well-being initiatives as part of corporate culture, tailored to your organisation’s unique needs.
  • Provide education and awareness for your employees about the benefits available to them. This includes re-evaluating employee facing communications. Simplicity is key in helping employees access the benefits most appropriate to their personal needs, whether that’s preventative or reactive.

1 Research at Macmillan Cancer Support | Macmillan Cancer Support

Information contained herein has been obtained from a range of third party sources and may change in the future. While the information is believed to be reliable, Mercer Marsh Benefits has not sought to verify it independently. As such, Mercer Marsh Benefits makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of the information presented and takes no responsibility or liability (including for indirect, consequential or incidental damages), for any error, omission or inaccuracy in the data supplied by any third party.

Shelley-Ann Bridges
Elif Oflaz

Associate Consultant, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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