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February 4, 2020

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World Cancer Day: SMEs can play a significant role in tackling cancer and supporting employees

One in two people expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. In advance of World Cancer Day on 4 February, SMEs have been encouraged to play a role in supporting employees from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation. 

cancerIn total, around 60% of the UK workforce is employed by SMEs, equating to more than 16 million people. But many employers still don’t offer support with mental and physical health and wellbeing, according to Towergate Health & Protection, with many deeming employee healthcare benefits as too expensive.

Benefits such as these can be crucial in swiftly diagnosing cancer and providing rapid treatment, whilst looking after the financial and emotional impact the disease can have on employees and their loved ones.

Health and wellbeing support can be a lifesaver to employees, but it may feel like an additional cost-burden to the employer. There are many ways to make health and wellbeing initiatives more cost effective however, and SMEs can provide low- or no-cost alternatives to employees in a bid to tackle cancer.

Encourage lifestyle changes

Data from World Health Organization suggests that up to 40% of cancer cases are preventable. That is because tobacco use is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths and up to 10% are related genetic mutation.

With poor diet and lack of exercise known to be contributors to cancer, Towergate suggests that SMEs could offer nutrition talks and group physical team challenges to encourage their workforce to be healthier and more active.

Offer individual health initiatives 

If SMEs are concerned that they can’t afford a suite of healthcare products, it may be worthwhile considering offering individual initiatives instead that can help to tackle cancer. Health screenings, for example, can be offered standalone – giving employees the opportunity to identify cancer before it becomes more difficult to treat. Early intervention is crucial in the success rate of cancer treatment, and SMEs could give employees a lifeline in providing health screenings.

Although not working for an SME, Karl Simons, Chief Health, Safety & Security Officer at Thames Water, is a huge advocate of this. He told SHP: “I believe very strongly that every company should provide its staff with an annual confidential personal medical assessment. In Thames we started this in 2013 and it’s been an incredible success, leading to many people getting support for issues they were unaware of and the trends have steered our health campaigns each year.

“We MOT our vehicles every year at a cost of just over £50, so why wouldn’t we MOT our people for the same £50! That’s how we see it and our test provides a full MOT that also includes physical and mental along with the latest cancer tests too. Each year, members of my team and I are contacted by our people who have been diagnosed with cancer thanking us for enabling them to be diagnosed so early with no visible signs or symptoms, so they can get the early treatment they require.

Tailor health and wellbeing programmes accordingly

Brett Hill, Distribution Director for Towergate Health & Protection, said: “SMEs are pivotal in supporting employees when it comes to cancer. They can support in the prevention of the disease, educating employees about how to be active and healthy; and provide medical, financial and emotional help should they ever be diagnosed with cancer.

“Having a robust health and wellbeing strategy in place can make a significant difference between an employee feeling supported, in what may be a daunting time, or being left alone to fend for themselves. As employees are the backbone to UK SMEs, it makes financial and ethical sense to ensure their health and wellbeing is supported throughout.”

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