Equipsme HR Guide – cancer

Equipsme HR Guide cancer

We know cancer is emotive and a big concern, so we’ve pulled this guide together to help you and your team understand more about the facts, the potential impact on your business and how you and your Equipsme plan can help your team if the worst should ever happen.

We know cancer is emotive and a big concern, so we’ve pulled this guide together to help you and your team understand more about the facts, the potential impact on your business and how you and your Equipsme plan can help your team if the worst should ever happen.

Don’t forget whatever plan your team have all Equipsme members have access to a 24/7 GP, dedicated nurse helpline and a cancer support team. So, there’s no need to Google symptoms and worry unnecessarily, if in doubt … get it checked out.

Half of us could face being diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, and we know it’s an issue that impacts everyone – up to and including places of work.

Most businesses will already have things like long-term sickness absence policies in place, but supporting cancer in the workplace doesn’t only mean supporting those going through treatment.

Cancer risk increases with age, and half of all diagnoses are in those aged over 70 – people who may already have left the workforce. While missed cancer diagnoses from Covid and long NHS waiting lists mean cancer support does need to be high on HR agendas, it makes sense to extend organisational focus to include wider health support.

That means encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles, supporting access to early diagnosis to catch those who will get cancer at a younger age - and support for carers who will inevitably be looking after or losing loved ones.

Cancer in numbers


While cancer cases are on the rise, most people are diagnosed when they’re older. The number of working people with cancer is nearly matched by the number of people caring for loved ones:

  • 50%1 of people in the UK will get cancer within their lifetime
  • 50%2 of cancers are diagnosed in people over 70
  • 890,0003 – the number of working age people living with cancer today
  • 700,0003 - a conservative estimated of the number of people caring for someone with cancer
  • 53%4 of all cancers in the UK fall into four types - breast, lung, prostate and bowel cancer

Early intervention

The importance of prevention and early detection for cancer can’t be overstated. There is much people can do to avoid key risk factors, e.g. quit smoking. Meanwhile where cancer does develop, catching it early makes a huge difference to health outcomes:

  • 38%5 - the number of cancer cases considered preventable
  • £133 billion6 - the total estimated costs of UK preventable cancer cases diagnosed in 2023, equating to 5.07% of annual GDP
  • 10%7 - the increase in risk of death for each 4 weeks delay in cancer treatment
  • 100% vs 25%8 – the number of women who survive breast cancer for 5 years or more when it’s diagnosed at its earliest stage, vs its latest stage
  • 65% vs 5%9 the number of people who survive lung cancer when it’s diagnosed at its earliest stage, vs its latest stage
  • 100% vs 50%10 - the number of men who survive prostate cancer when it’s diagnosed at its earliest stage, vs its latest stage
  • 90% vs 10%11 - the number of people who survive bowel cancer when it’s diagnosed at its earliest stage, vs its latest stage


People are experiencing difficulty in getting that early attention, especially for what can often be vague symptoms that are hard to put together, eg. losing weight, lumps, bumps, or minor changes over time:

  • 50%12 of Brits who have avoided making a GP appointment, often the first port of call for cancer symptoms
  • 28%13 - people who’ve avoided making an appointment because it’s too difficult
  • 50,00014 – estimated ‘missed’ cancer diagnoses in the community, due to Covid
  • 8 million15 – the estimated size of the NHS waiting lists 2024

NHS Treatment

While waiting lists for NHS treatment are at an all-time high and cancer targets are officially  being missed, most people are in fact still experiencing fast, effective treatment from the NHS:

  • 89%16 of people diagnosed with cancer start treatment within 31 days on the NHS
  • 11% - the number of people waiting longer than 31 days – often due to the need for complex treatment plans and further tests, scans and genetic results

Workplace issues

Cancer clearly has an impact on people in the workplace, and not all workplaces are responding effectively to individual needs:

  • 40%17 - the number of people with cancer who’ve had to use annual leave to attend medical appointments
  • 15 weeks18 – the average time off taken by someone with cancer
  • 22% 19 - the number of people who don’t tell their workplace they have cancer until they are undergoing treatment
  • 10%20 - the number of people with cancer who don’t feel supported by their workplace (22)
  • 67%21 - the number of workplaces which don’t have a specific policy for serious or terminal illness.

What the law says about cancer

Under UK law, cancer is considered a disability, protected in England, Scotland and Wales by the Equality Act 201022, and in Northern Ireland by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Amongst other things, that means your organisation has to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people with cancer, that allow them to do their job.

The Carer’s Leave Act 202323 makes provisions for employees with caring responsibilities. Any employee who balances work with unpaid care is now entitled to up to five working days within any 12-month period, extending to 18 weeks for a child.

According to the Employment Rights Act 199624, UK employers are obligated to give employees an unpaid “reasonable” number of days off following the death of a family member, or dependent.

What can businesses do about cancer?

1. Prevention

Not all cancers can be prevented, and not all risk factors can be mitigated – for instance age or family history. But there are risk factors people can control, including giving up smoking, drinking less alcohol, taking exercise, staying safe in the sun, eating well and maintaining a healthy weight.

These are all healthy habits that employers can encourage through health and wellbeing initiatives at work – making it easier for employees to take breaks, have time to prepare and eat food, and opportunities to move more during the working day.

Things like health assessments or health checks can also help motivate people to make lifestyle changes, and spot potential issues early.

2. Early diagnosis

Early diagnosis makes a huge difference to the kind of cancer treatments available, and their chance of success. It’s really important to avoid a culture of presenteeism, and make it as easy as possible for people to take their initial symptoms to a GP.

There is also a role for health awareness days and activities, including for charity, which can help spread the word about symptoms to look out for - especially linked to the most common types of cancer likely to impact your workforce.

3. Treatment support

Treatment support remains crucial, and can include reasonable adjustment, such as time off for appointments, flexible working, reduced hours and duties - or phased returns to work after surgery or other procedures. The good news, according to Macmillan, is that 64% of organisations25 find making these adjustments easy and effective.

It’s also important to review your long-term sickness absence policy26,and invest in ongoing training for HR staff and line managers27, helping them offer the best possible support to employees.

4. Carer support

If you don’t have a carer support or carer’s leave policy28, it’s time to develop one. Some estimates put the figure of those caring for someone with cancer in the UK as high as 6 million29. Looking after someone with cancer can have a physical, emotional, and financial impact. Being aware of the challenges30 they face and flexible about things like working schedules can empower carers, promote engagement, and build a culture of support.

5. Bereavement support

Many people will live with cancer for years. For others it may be months. For the people around them, it is clearly devastating.  As an organisation you should have a compassionate leave or bereavement policy31 for employees who lose a loved one, and plans in place to support the teams of employees who have died.

How your Equipsme plan can help

1. Prevention

All Equipsme plans come with Thriva tests and discounts from our health check partners Thriva, aiming to help people stay one step ahead of their health.

2. Early diagnosis

Encourage your people to use their Equipsme 24/7 GP service to get fast, convenient appointments, a vital second opinion service - and even open referrals on to specialist consultants if needed. These can be for NHS appointments, or for a claim for a private specialist appointment if diagnosis is part of your Equipsme plan and if the symptoms to be investigated are covered.

3. Treatment support

The cost of cancer treatment can make traditional PMI prices increase significantly, which is why we don’t include it in Equipsme plans. Instead, we focus on early diagnosis, and provide helpline support as people return back to the NHS to start their treatment programmes, often under the same consultant they’ve seen through Equipsme (when diagnosis is part of their plan). The NHS is still very effective at cancer care, and is often the best place to gather multi-disciplinary teams for complex treatment.

We also have cancer nurse specialists on our 24/7 nurse support helpline, who can help patients and their relatives understand their treatment, medication, and options.

4. Carer support

Because cancer risk increases with age, cancer carers in the workforce will be looking after older relatives. That’s why all Equipsme plans now come with discounts on Which? recommended Elder Care support services, including personal alarms and emergency resolution services, plus expert advice, guidance and other resources. Relatives can also make use of our specialist cancer support line.

5. Bereavement support

Equipsme’s stress support service, an optional add-on that you can choose to provide to all employees included in your main plan, includes bereavement support. Initial telephone appointments can lead to referrals for a limited number of local, face-to-face appointments with a bereavement expert.


Resources and references:

CIPD Long term illness guide: long term health
CIPD Long term illness guide: carer friendly workplace
Macmillan work and cancer guidance


1.  www.nhs.uk
2. www.ageuk.org.uk
3.  be.macmillan.org.uk
4. www.cancerresearchuk.org
5. www.cancerresearchuk.org
6. www.frontier-economics.com
7. www.lshtm.ac.uk
8. www.cancerresearchuk.org
9. www.cancerresearchuk.org
10. www.cancerresearchuk.org
11. www.cancerresearchuk.org
12. www.england.nhs.uk
13. www.england.nhs.uk
14. www.macmillan.org.uk
15. www.health.org.uk
16. www.england.nhs.uk
17. www.maggies.org
18. Cancer costs UK businesses £1.6bn in absences (covermagazine.co.uk)
19. www.maggies.org
20. www.maggies.org
21. www.cipd.org
22. www.legislation.gov.uk
23. www.legislation.gov.uk
24. www.legislation.gov.uk
25. be.macmillan.org.uk
26. www.cipd.org
27. www.macmillan.org.uk
28. www.hr-inform.co.uk
29. ascopubs.org
30. www.cipd.org
31. www.cipd.org

All our information is desk-based research from credible sources only, including the NHS and medical/disease charities


Date created: June 2024