Employers urged to ramp up support for cancer ahead of predicted ‘tsunami’ in cases, as referrals drop 55%

Employers are being urged to review and ramp up their support for cancer ahead of a predicted surge in cases amongst staff during the remainder of the year.

RedArc is warning that there is a backlog in diagnoses due to a combination of reduced NHS capacity and fewer individuals seeing their GP during the height of the pandemic. In October, Macmillan reported that there were 50,000 missed diagnoses* and RedArc’s own data shows that from April 2020, as soon as lockdown was announced, referrals for cancer support significantly dropped by 55%** on the normal average monthly rate. However, the company stresses that this is a delay and not a reduction in overall cases, in fact early indications are that cases are now beginning to increase, and we are likely to see a significant increase as lockdown eases.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, said: “We believe that there is going to be a tsunami of new cancer diagnoses in the second half of the year. Many routine screening services were disrupted and people were reticent to attend medical appointments when the pandemic was at its peak in 2020. Even though most have resumed, cancer services are now under strain and waiting times have increased, which is likely to lead to a stream of more severe cases.”

RedArc’s own data is echoed by both NHS Providers and Public Health England:

  • Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers was recently quoted as saying that A&E units are ‘struggling to cope’ with the number of people seeking emergency treatment for cancer and other serious ailments as people didn’t come forward for help during the pandemic.
  • Public Health England warned that many thousands of people may have the disease but have not yet started treatment due to a ‘shift in later diagnosis’. Official figures show that early cancer diagnoses detected at stage one have dropped by a third*** and 45,000 fewer people starting cancer treatment between the start of the pandemic and March 2021****.

Christine Husbands continued: “Employers really need to gear up their support for employees who are diagnosed with cancer so they can confidently provide a broad range of support depending on their employees’ needs. In particular, those who delayed or missed screening appointments during the past year may well need extra help in coming to terms with their diagnosis which is likely to be more advanced.”

Cancer support needs to be tailored

As well as needing emotional support, employees may require the expertise of a medical professional to help them fully understand options for surgery, treatment and its side effects. Practical help at home may also be needed to support the individual and their family with a change of routine and responsibilities. Digital apps are also proving extremely useful in helping people to feel in control of their cancer, as well as specialist mental health support, structured courses of therapy and counselling. RedArc knows that employers cannot pre-empt which types of support will be needed, so it’s vital that cancer support is available quickly, can be tailored and personalised, and is available for as long as the employee needs it.

RedArc also suggests that many cancer patients are keen to keep in touch with their employer, and treatment permitting, like to continue to work as it provides a sense of normality and an income. The added-value benefits often built into employee benefits can help the employee understand how cancer may affect their working life, and can also support the employer in making changes to the workplace or working arrangements that help the employee remain at work or return when they are ready.

Christine Husbands concluded: “A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming for even the most stoic of employees but doctors are increasingly seeing it as a manageable condition with the long-term prognosis much better than most people expect. Under normal circumstances, cancer is difficult enough but with an overstretched NHS, employees are likely to need additional support more than ever. Neither employees nor their employers can know how an individual’s cancer experience will evolve but by providing comprehensive support, employers can be satisfied that they are doing everything they can when it matters most.”


**Year to date statistics run on 14 May 2021.