Health and wellbeing: A caring environment

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• Financial products are available to support employees with cancer, including private medical insurance, group income protection and critical illness cover.
• Insurances often come with added benefits, such as employee assistance programmes.
• Providing practical and emotional support for staff is as important as financial benefits.
• Raising workplace awareness of cancer can improve the chances of early diagnosis.
• Helping managers know how to deal with cancer creates a supportive environment.

Case study: Npower connects with Macmillan Cancer Support

Energy company Npower employs more than 12,000 people across 60 sites in the UK. It has partnered Macmillan Cancer Support since 2004, supporting the charity and using the relationship to raise awareness of cancer among staff.

Ruth Worton, charity manager at Npower, says: “Macmillan provides a range of support and our occupational health department is launching its new Working Though Cancer programme later this year. This will help to ensure that line managers and our HR team have the right information and guidance to help employees affected by cancer.”

The charity has also worked with Npower to support some of its health awareness events for employees. Worton adds: “They recently attended a health and safety week at our Stoke office to raise awareness of the symptoms of breast, bowel and lung cancer, and to encourage employees to attend breast and bowel cancer screening programmes.”

As well as the health-related activities, Npower also encourages all its employees to get involved with fundraising for the charity, matching every pound they raise. This has helped to raise awareness of the disease across the company and has also improved employee engagement, with 70% of employees saying they believe Npower is socially responsible in the community.

Adopting a proactive approach to cancer can bring many positives for employers, says Sam Barrett

Cancer rates are rising in the UK, with a Macmillan Cancer Support study, published in July, showing that four in 10 of us will get the disease at some point in our lives. Although most cancer cases affect the retired population, more than 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer in the UK, with 100,000 new cases diagnosed in this age group every year.

James Kenrick, health management practice lead at Aon Hewitt, says: “Cancer has a significant effect in the workplace, not only on the employee diagnosed with the disease but also on their colleagues and the employer. More employers are looking at ways to provide support to those affected.”

As regards financial support, a number of products are available. Private medical insurance (PMI), which can pick up at least some of the cost of treatment, is probably the main product in this area. Plans can cover everything from diagnosis to treatment and drugs, and some include palliative care. Wayne Pontin, sales director at Jelf Employee Benefits, says it is important to understand what is included. “Cover varies,” he says. “Some insurers allow [employers] to remove cancer cover completely or put time or financial limits on the cover.”

Long-term chemotherapy

For example, Axa PPP Healthcare offers policies that cover licensed long-term chemotherapy for up to 12 or 36 months, as well as plans that cover any drugs, licensed or not, recommended by the employee’s consultant. Aviva takes a similar stance. Its Optimum plan offers a core benefit of 12 months’ cover for cancer drugs, which can be downgraded to nothing or six months’ cover or upgraded to three years’ cover.

Other insurers have bucked the cost-cutting trend. For instance, in March, Bupa announced it would no longer offer corporate schemes that had time or cost limits for cancer treatment, claiming that these left policyholders vulnerable.

Employers appear to take a similar stance, with few opting for reduced cover, says Pontin. “Even though a large claim could push premiums up by 30% plus, as cancer is such an emotive disease, most employers opt for full cover.”

If employers do restrict cover, they must ensure staff know exactly what they have, says Pontin. “I have seen instances of plans with 12 months of cover where the insurer has authorised three months of treatment and, rather than go back to get another course authorised, the employee has assumed they have had their full entitlement.”

Medical insurers are also adding nurse-led services to support policyholders diagnosed with cancer. Sharon Lidstone, head of clinical and change management at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “We can help with questions policyholders and their families have about cancer. It could be information about the treatment they are being offered, tips on how to deal with the disease, advice on charity support, or just a listening ear.”

Use the NHS for treatment

Insurers are also adding mechanisms to encourage more policyholders to use the NHS for cancer treatment. For example, Bupa offers a cash payment of £100 for every day or night someone is in hospital receiving cancer treatment from the NHS.

Group income protection and critical illness cover can also offer financial support to staff with cancer. Income protection can provide an income if the employee is unable to work, while group critical illness will pay a lump sum on diagnosis of cancer or other serious conditions. Paul Avis, sales and marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, says: “A critical illness payout can be spent on medical treatment, rehabilitation or even to pay off debts. Employers can put in as much cover as they want, dependent on the minimum premium.”

Group critical illness cover typically costs 0.5% to 1% of payroll, while group income protection costs about 1.5%. Schemes can also have added benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs).

However, Aon Hewitt’s Kenrick questions whether financial assistance is the most appropriate support. “Cancer claims can push up the cost of medical insurance at a time when investment to the NHS has hugely improved the service it delivers,” he says. “You will often see a cancer specialist just as quickly on the NHS as you would privately. I recommend cutting back on this type of financial support and investing in more practical and emotional support for staff. Raising awareness of cancer in the workplace can lead to improved chances of early diagnosis, and if an employee does contract cancer, they will feel better supported and understood by management and colleagues.”

Cancer information and screening services

Various sources can provide such support. Benefit providers, including medical insurers, cash plan and EAP providers, may be able to provide cancer information and screening services for health awareness days.

Manager training can also help. Pontin often sources trauma training for some larger employers, showing managers how to deal with difficult situations in the workplace, such as a cancer diagnosis. “Typical costs are £800 to £1,500 for a day’s training, but [employers] only need to send a few people and it will work its way into the culture,” he says.

Charities can also provide information to raise awareness of cancer and foster a supportive environment. Laura Dillington, working through cancer project manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “It is incredibly positive for an employer to be supportive of those affected by cancer. As well as the business case for helping those with cancer to stay at work, it sends out a very positive message about the employer.

Cancer: the legal position

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal responsibility to employees who are diagnosed with cancer. Rachel Dineley, partner and head of the equality and discrimination unit at Beachcroft, says: “Cancer, with very few exceptions, is regarded as a disability under the Equality Act. This means the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable the employee to continue working.”

Exactly what these reasonable adjustments are depends on the person’s condition and their short-, mediumand long-term needs, as well as the needs and resources of the employer. “Adjustments can include time off for treatment, reducing the volume of work, and using flexible working to help someone return to work gradually or to allow them to avoid rush-hour commuting,” says Dineley.

The legal position on pay and financial support will depend on the contractual arrangements, although some employers will use their discretion when they interpret this. “Whatever you do, be consistent in your approach and do not make assumptions,” says Dineley. “It is sensible to speak to the employee about what they feel able to take on.”

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