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Cancer Impact Calculator

Adiona Magazine: Rising numbers of cancer diagnoses in the working age population are becoming a major issue for HR. 700,000 employees are currently living with cancer in the UK, with predictions from Cancer Research that by 2027 around half of the population will have the disease at some point in their life.  

Rising number of cancer Professor Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery at Anglia Ruskin University and Medical Director at Check4Cancer, reports.

Cancer is now estimated to be responsible for 29% of long term absence. Time off work for patients and their carers costs employers £5.5 billion each year in terms of lost productivity (Macmillan Cancer Support 2012). That's the direct cost, but the serious nature of the disease and its long-term implications for individuals, their family, carers, friends and peers, mean that a cancer diagnosis affects networks of people across workplaces. The numbers of people living with cancer mean it's becoming more similar to other chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes or epilepsy.

In practical terms there are a host of people management issues involved: providing support and understanding in what is a highly sensitive and emotional situation; communicating appropriately with staff; managing changes in roles and organising cover; making reasonable adjustments to work environment and conditions; ensuring fair treatment; keeping up an ongoing conversation with the cancer sufferer, and managing a positive return to work. Financially, costs in terms of medical insurance benefits can typically be more than £100,000 for each employee diagnosed with cancer, and PMI premiums are increasing as the number of staff taking long term illness payments increases. Cancer is also treated as a 'disability' under the Equality Act and so employers need to provide flexibility and 'reasonable adjustments' in working routines and environment.

More employers are trying to address the cancer issue proactively by introducing cancer screenings as a benefit for staff - including cancer screens that aren’t provided by the NHS as a standard offering (cervical, prostate, lung cancer etc). As with any HR innovation, the challenge has been to justify the investment to the business, to the director of finance. Wellbeing initiatives in particular have had a reputation for intangible, hard-to-measure effects.

A new web tool, developed by Health At Work Wellness Actuaries, allows organisations to assess the financial savings from introducing early detection of cancer services into their workforce. The Cancer Impact Calculator (available free at www.check4cancer.com/cic) is founded on current data on the risk of cancer among people of working age in the UK and information on the levels and nature of undiagnosed cases across different cancer types. The actuary model draws on insights from cancer specialists into the stages of tumour growth and post-diagnosis treatments, the costs involved, likely levels of workplace absence, and longer-term treatment and survival rates. Average figures are used on normal absence rates, presenteeism costs, average death and private medical benefit costs and typical turnover rates.

Early detection is critical for both cancer survival and limiting the need for, and extent of, treatment. It saves lives and also means less surgery is needed (for breast cancer, for example, patients in the early stages can opt for a 'lumpectomy' with four weeks recovery time, compared to a ‘mastectomy' with six to 12 months of recovery), making a vast difference to the impact on everyone involved. NHS data suggests early diagnosis of all cancers would reduce the huge cost burden for the UK by as much as £210 million and help to improve the chances of survival for over 52,000 patients.

Based on the data, the model projects future outcomes for everyone tested over a 10-year period, comparing the tested individual to someone that has not been tested. This provides the basis for clearer decision-making on approaches to mitigating the impacts of rising numbers of cancer cases in the working population. For example, accountancy and advisory firm BDO trialled the Cancer Impact Calculator and found an estimated saving of £1.66 for every £1.00 invested in cancer checks.

Full article is available on Adiona Magazine, p.32

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