Cancer and the new Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service
19 March 2013
Returning to work can be a positive part of the recovery process for people with cancer, bringing with it physical, mental and social benefits. Working can not only provide economic security, but can help people enjoy society more fully. However, whilst evidence shows that the majority of cancer survivors return to work after treatment, job retention rates are much lower than the general population, with many people with cancer struggling to remain in the workplace.
As a result of the Equalities Act 2010 it is an employer’s responsibility to help an employee recovering from cancer remain work, supporting them and making any reasonable adjustments to the workplace they might need. However, many employers do not have access to the high quality occupational health advice they need to provide this support. A new government service may be about to change this.
In January as part of the government’s response to ‘Health at work- an independent review of sickness absence’ a new service was announced- the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAAS). Promising to provide a ‘new state-funded service to make expert occupational health assessments and advice more readily available for employees and their employers’, HWAAS has the potential to really make a positive difference.
Our report, Returning to Work: cancer survivors and the health and work launched on 18 March, looks at how the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service can work to support people with cancer remain in employment.
Firstly, we recommend that the assessment process be both as holistic and specific to the individual as possible. Overly generalised advice would be an easy trap to fall into, and we believe that an individual’s full circumstances should be taken into account when constructing their report, which will form the basis of all further interventions.
Secondly, we argue that the government must involve all stakeholders in the development and operation of the service. It should be designed with other services, such as vocational rehabilitation, in mind- ensuring a ‘dovetail’ between the programmes. Moreover, we believe that these services should be available, accessible and effective. We suggest that the government take into consideration the recommendations of the forthcoming Macmillan report ‘Making the shift: Providing specialist work support to people with cancer’.
Finally, and most importantly, we strongly encourage that the government does all it can to ensure that people with long term conditions such as cancer are able to access the service as a routine part of cancer care treatment. We found the lack of reference to people with long term conditions in the policy document particularly disturbing, and a serious omission given that by 2030, approximately 21 million people of working age, or approximately half of the work force, will have at least one long-term health condition.
The government have a significant and important opportunity to improve the lives of people with long term conditions such as cancer. We urge them to seize it, and ensure that the service is suitably designed to help people with long term conditions remain in work.