Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, some worrying trends have emerged in healthcare. Fewer people have chosen to consult their GPs about health concerns due to fears surrounding COVID and research from RedArc shows that referrals for cancer support dropped by more than half (55%) between April 2020 and May 2021.
Many cancer patients decided not to seek treatment at all during lockdown, while more than 300,000 have people missed urgent cancer checks since the start of the pandemic. The NHS also put some treatments on hold to allow hospitals to cope with an influx of Covid patients and to protect vulnerable cancer patients from infection. There was also a 12% drop in the number of patients starting treatment for cancer.
The impact of these changes is soon to become apparent with the backlog of cancer diagnoses also fuelled by reduced NHS capacity since the start of the pandemic. With RedArc’s predictions that there will be a “tsunami” of new cancer diagnoses in the second half of this year, we can also reasonably expect an increase in more severe cases of the disease as both diagnosis and treatment have been – or can expect to be – delayed.
With the shift towards later diagnosis, those cancer patients who waited for treatment are now overwhelming hospitals as A&E units are “struggling to cope” with the number of people seeking emergency support. Due to the delays, many of these patients are now in more advanced stages of the disease making their treatment and experience more complex.
As experts warn that England is at risk of “replacing the Covid crisis with a cancer crisis,” now is the time for employers to review their support structure and ensure that robust measures are in place to support affected employees in their time of need.
Following a critical illness diagnosis, both employees and their families face major physical and emotional challenges. They may have decisions to make about surgery and treatment, as well as how their day-to-day life could be impacted on a physical, practical and financial level such as making adjustments to their home or dealing with a potential drop in income.
They may struggle to accept or comprehend the diagnosis in the first place, necessitating increased mental health support. They may also be concerned about their jobs – RedArc have suggested that many cancer patients prefer to continue working as normal to maintain “a sense of normality and an income.”
Creating a Tailored Experience
With cancer services under more strain than ever and NHS waiting lists only growing longer, what can employers do to help? All signs point towards selecting the most effective benefits to ensure comprehensive support is in place for your teams before a diagnosis is even made.
Added-value benefits are one of the best ways to tailor support to help both employer and employee to adjust working arrangements in the light of a diagnosis and support every individual in their personal cancer experience. A key part of the process is helping employees feel more in control of their situation and this is where added value benefits such as digital apps and mental health support can prove invaluable.
More Hurdles, More Solutions
As restrictions are set to be lifted on July 19, cancer patients face yet another hurdle. Leading cancer charities have criticised the Government for ‘risking the lives’ of clinically extremely vulnerable patients amid major concerns that cancer care will be disrupted once again and those living with the condition may struggle to access the support and resources they need without further delays.
This is a time when employer support is not just helpful, it could be crucial in transforming the employee experience as they struggle to navigate a cancer diagnosis and everything that follows. With doctors increasingly seeing cancer as a “manageable condition with the long-term prognosis much better than most people expect”, support will look very different depending on the individual patient which is why comprehensive cover will prove the most effective. For advice and guidance on choosing the best options for your company and your team, contact our private health insurance specialists today.