Fighting cancer in the workplace: what it means for SMEs

Over the past couple of years, we have seen a paradigm shift in the relationship between business and cancer, with more and more employers introducing cancer tests as a potential benefit for their employees. Many of these, of course, are large corporations with whole departments dedicated to HR and Wellbeing – but what do such developments mean for SMEs?

That cancer is having a significant impact on business and employers is beyond doubt. Over 100,000 of those diagnosed with cancer each year are of working age, and over 750,000 people of working age are now living with a cancer diagnosis. Nationwide, around 325,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year, and 160,000 die of it. Cancer charity Macmillan estimates that one in two people in the UK will get cancer of one type in their lifetime by the year 2020 – but new methods used by Cancer Research UK suggest that this is already true for those born after 1960.

The latest figures from the NHS show it struggling under the burden of this epidemic. It has failed to meet its cancer treatment targets for the whole of 2014-15, with more than 21,000 people not having been seen within the specified 62-day period. Given this grim picture, it is hardly surprising that the Department of Health has asked employers for help in fighting the massive cancer burden. Just as significant is the fact that since 2010 cancer has been legally classed as a disability, with all the obligations that this implies for the employer.

With this in mind, Check4Cancer – which specialises in cancer detection and education in the workplace – recently published a report entitled Cancer in the workplace: what does it mean for HR? This draws on a specially commissioned survey of over 100 HR professionals, and provides insight into how the threat of cancer is perceived by businesses themselves. It goes on to suggest ways in which to tackle this growing issue, including a suggested five point ‘anti-cancer’ strategy.

It reveals that attitudes are indeed changing, with 95% of HR professionals surveyed being in favour of regular, free cancer checks for all employees. There is still some way to go, however, when it comes to realising this aim. Currently, only 63% actively plan to introduce cancer awareness programmes and/or screening in their organisation (22% were not sure; 13% said it was unlikely).

Some of those employers who have already introduced anti-cancer strategies are also presented as case studies within the report. Through four successive campaigns, for example, Hewlett Packard picked up 65+ cancers that otherwise may not have been detected until a later stage. If this success was duplicated across the board, in all businesses, tens of thousands of lives could be saved nationwide. NHS data suggests early diagnosis of all cancers would reduce the UK cost burden by as much as £210 million and improve the chances of survival for over 52,000 patients.

Clearly, awareness-raising campaigns and cancer screens are a good thing, and clearly all employers have both legal obligations and a duty of care. For SMEs, however – whose most pressing need is often the immediate financial health of the company – it may not seem so easy to undertake projects such as this, even if there exists a strong desire to do so.

Read the full article in WorkLab.