Working with cancer: how OH advice can help

According to cancer support charity, Macmillan, HR staff in a large company will see more new cancer diagnoses each year than the average GP. More than 700,000 people of working age are living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK, and many of these will continue to work during or after treatment. This could be because they need to for financial reasons, or perhaps they want to retain a ‘normal’ life wherever possible. Or perhaps they simply enjoy their work. 

If an employee has received a cancer diagnosis, there is a lot of support available to help them continue working. They may wish to work through and after treatment, if it is appropriate considering their line of work.  Macmillan offer excellent advice on all aspects of working through and after cancer treatment. We’d like to share some of their advice and explain how occupational health plays an important part in enabling people to continue working for as long as they wish.

What to do after diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis comes with many uncertainties and employees may not know how it will affect their work in the short term or in the future. Health professionals may be able to give some advice in advance but with some treatments, the employee won’t know what to expect until they start.

There are many variables, such as:

(1)       The type of cancer and its stage

(2)       The treatment and its side effects

(3)       The employee’s financial circumstances

(4)       The practical support the employee has available

Speak to the employee

Talking is the first step

Many people do carry on working or return to work with support from their employer. By law, an employer must consider making reasonable adjustments to help individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer. You may wish to have a designated person within your workplace who can advise the employee or their managers; such as an occupational health adviser. There are also various organisations that offer support. 

Occupational health

Occupational health advisers will have an understanding of the job requirements

If your workplace has an occupational health adviser then an occupational health referral would be appropriate. If your workplace doesn’t have an in-house occupational health department, there are many providers that can offer an ad-hoc service to provide advice to the employee and employer on appropriate support at work.  Occupational health advisers are professionals specialising in workplace health issues. In addition to medical expertise, they’ll have an understanding of the requirements of the job roles.

This means they can advise you on matters such as:

(1)       Common symptoms to expect and the possible impact on work ability

(2)       Workplace adjustments

(3)       Returning to work

(4)       Ongoing employment

It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Individuals will need some time off work for tests, appointments and treatments, and they might also need time away to adjust to their feelings. 

Some people stop working during treatment and for some time after, while others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or other temporary changes to their job. Work can be important for giving individuals a sense of routine and may also be a vital source of friendships and social life. 

An occupational health specialist can be a great support during this time. If you’d like to find out more about how occupational health can support people with cancer at work, please feel free to call us at any time.