Quarter of cancer patients receive no return-to-work support after diagnosis

Charity highlights employers’ ‘vital role’ after research reveals employees feel pressured to go back early and cover up symptoms

Many cancer patients are either not receiving the support they need to return to work, feel forced to hide their symptoms or are being pressured into returning to work before they are ready, a leading cancer charity has said.

A survey of workers with cancer diagnoses, carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support, found one in 10 felt pressured into returning to work before they were ready.

Of the 1,500 workers surveyed by the charity, more than a quarter (27 per cent) received no support to help them back to work after their diagnosis, and of those who did return to work, 23 per cent did not feel well enough to be there. 

The survey found that the vast majority (87 per cent) felt it was important to continue working after their diagnosis, but one in 10 per cent reported feeling the need to cover up their symptoms, like fatigue and sickness, at work.

Ghazala Anjam, team leader of Macmillan’s Work Support Service said: “Cancer can turn someone’s life upside down, completely disrupting their work and making staying in, or returning to, employment difficult without the right support.

“Employers have a vital role to play in helping employees remain in or return to work after their diagnosis.”

He added it was crucial employers understand their legal obligations to employees with cancer under the Equality Act, that they consider what reasonable adjustments their employees may need to stay in work, and that they had appropriate policies and processes in place.

The charity also revealed calls to their Work Support Service hotline had risen 74 per cent in a year, jumping from 982 calls between June 2016 and May 2017 to 1,711 calls between June 2017 and May 2018.

Macmillan estimates someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes, with around 2.5 million people in the UK currently experiencing the disease. Many will have to hold down a job while they undergo treatment. 

Moira Fraser-Pearce, Macmillan’s director of policy, said employers needed to better understand employees’ needs and consider different ways of supporting them. “We know just how important it is to many people to work during their cancer treatment or return to employment afterwards,” she said.

“A lack of support means an unacceptable amount of people are facing unnecessary work-related stress and anxiety, including potentially losing their jobs, which can have a detrimental impact on their finances.

“Employers have such an important role to play during this turbulent time.” 

Lisa Grice, 59, a former administrator from Cheshire, who returned to work after a womb cancer diagnosis, said the way she was treated at work severely affected her mental health and at times left her feeling suicidal.

“Returning to work was awful as the company I worked for had no procedures in place to deal with someone living with cancer and I was offered no support,” she said.

Grice said she was made to take holiday for necessary medical appointments and unpaid leave if she needed a day off. “There were days when I was exhausted and couldn’t face work, but I pushed myself to go in and pretend everything was okay as I had bills to pay and was terrified I would lose my job.”

She added it took 18 months of counselling to help her recover from the experience.